International Professional Fora:

A study of civil society organisation participation in internet governance

International Professional Fora:

A study of civil society organisation participation in internet governance

Ensuring social value in spectrum allocation decisions

On 25th November 2015 the Department of Culture, Media and Sport published an independent report on Incorporating Social Value into Spectrum Allocation Decisions. The authors of the report include Patrick Barwise (London Business School), Martin Cave (Imperial College Business School), Peter Culham (Ofcom), Tony Lavender (Plum Consulting), Neil Pratt (Ofcom) and Damian Tambini (LSE).

Following the publication of the UK Spectrum Strategy in 2014, the report has been aimed at studying how to assess what the best economic and social value (social capital, political freedoms, national culture, security and inequality) of spectrum (re)allocation is and how to deliver it. The authors, however, acknowledge that the boundaries between the definitions of the different types of private value and the broader social value of spectrum allocation can be blurred at times.

The report highlights three non-market valuation methods for assessing the impact of spectrum (re-)allocation on the total (economic and social) value of spectrum usage - stated preference (SP), deliberative research (DR) and methods based on subjective wellbeing (SWB). The SP valuation technique measures the total value the public attributes to specific ways and services of spectrum usage by simply asking them about their opinion. Similarly, the SWB surveys whether the respondents (subjective) wellbeing (overall life satisfaction) is likely to be affected by decisions on spectrum (re-)allocation. The more sophisticated DR technique measures whether preferences may change after learning new information about the policy issue and the alternatives and trade-offs of the proposed spectrum allocation decision. Taking into account the advantages and disadvantages of the three assessment techniques, the authors have argued that their combination could provide a better approach to measure the total value of spectrum usage.

Incorporating the three techniques, the report recommends the following procedural steps: 1) problem specification; 2) options and trade-offs identification and making them accessible to people through everyday language; 3) optional initial assessment of the likely impact on the economic use value of the relevant spectrum-using services; 4) release of a consultation document; 5) DR study; 6) SP study on the basis of the deliberative research; 7) SWB study to complement the SP, and in combination with DR to establish the relevance and validity of the results; 8) summary of the results, incorporating qualitative, non-technical terms and supplemented but not reduced to a single financial number; 9) recommendation to ministers on the basis of the different options and trade-offs that the results have produced. In relation to the last step, the authors highlight that “[t]he key judgment is whether the differences between the different options’ net impact on the non-use and social value generated by the spectrum-using services are sufficient to alter the ranking based on their private use value.” According to the authors of the report, it would be the case that some broader social value considerations for spectrum allocation might turn “insufficient to merit investing significant resources in order to incorporate them.”

The UK Government will operationalise the proposed method as regards the allocation of the 700 MHz frequency band (Appendix B of the report provides an example for this) following the decision of the ITU to enable the band for a mobile broadband use on a global level. It has not yet been determined whether or how the proposed assessment procedure will be applied to the evaluation of the broader social value of the use of the 470-694 MHz (below 700 MHz) spectrum band within one decade’s time. As already known, the lower UHF bands are currently utilised by terrestrial broadcasting services on a primary basis and, although the ITU’s WRC-15 guaranteed the preservation of this regime until at least 2023, the increasing mobile broadband demand is pressing for co-primary share of the bands.