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Data Innovation Initiative: Spectrum Auctions - Data, Benefits Abound

August 6th, 2010 by Robert Alderfer

Data is important to the success of the FCC in carrying out its responsibilities.  One such responsibility is management of wireless spectrum, including the FCC’s spectrum auction program.  Spectrum auctions are widely recognized as the most efficient, effective, and transparent means to assign initial commercial licenses to use the nation’s airwaves.  They help to ensure that spectrum resources are put to their best economic use – and wireless service has taken off as a result.  

CTIA, the Wireless Association, estimates that there are now over 285 million wireless subscribers in the US, generating revenue of over $150 billion annually.  And, FCC spectrum auctions have generated $52 billion in revenue since the program’s inception.  When one considers the additional tax revenue from a growing industry, as well as the “consumer surplus” of wireless services, the benefit of auctions look even more significant as a means to facilitate wireless growth.  

So what does it take to generate these economic benefits through auctions?  In addition to hardworking staff, it takes data.  Auction participants provide data in their applications, they provide feedback on auctions, and they provide information necessary to ensure compliance with auction rules.  Without this information, the auction program could not be successful.  For example, auction participants are required to disclose to the FCC any “attributable interests”, or partners.  This promotes transparency, protects against collusion among bidders and ensures appropriate competition for spectrum resources.  It also prevents gaming of the rules, such as certain preferences provided to small businesses that enable them to compete.

Auctions also generate enormous amounts of data.  For every spectrum auction, we publish who bid on what and how much at each stage.  This can mean thousands of data points in any given auction, which is useful for researchers, industry-watchers, and consumers alike.

The Data Innovation Initiative is about doing business in a smarter way.  The Wireless Telecommunication Bureau's Data Review WT Docket No 10-131 is a Public Notice seeking comments on how we can improve data related to auctions and other functions. In the context of auctions, this means taking a second look at the information we collect to support the program, and maximizing the public benefit of auction data.  For example, by modernizing our reporting requirements, we may be able to save participants several thousand hours per year overall.  Through tighter integration of our auctions and licensing data, we could more easily track auctioned licenses and provide insight on what happens to them in the secondary market.  And, by clear reporting of the vast amount of data we have gained in prior auctions, we can provide the public with a window into the world of auctions.

We are eager to hear from those who have participated in FCC auctions or have expertise in auctions and spectrum to share on how we can do improve our auctions-related data.  Follow this link to file comments WT Docket No-131. Official comments are due by August 13.

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