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Director's Office > Spectrum Management > National & International Spectrum Policy

National & International Spectrum Policy

National Spectrum Management Agencies and Regulations (FCC and NTIA)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) administers the spectrum for commercial uses, and is largely responsible for setting national policy on spectrum issues. The FCC also plays a large role in organizing the US national delegation to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). It is to the FCC that astronomers must generally respond on issues affecting the health of their discipline. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) - the FCC's counterpart for governmental and shared use of spectrum - is found within the Department of Commerce and has a somewhat lower profile.

The FCC typically opens a docket to contain the life cycle of a matter, beginning with a notice of inquiry (NOI), a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) and, finally, a report and order containing the actual and final rules. The NOI and NPRM are typically followed by 30-75 day periods of open and reply comment and then by latent periods of further deliberation; the entire process may last several years.

The range of issues addressed by the FCC is often rather breathtaking, even within the scope of a single NOI or NPRM. Yet it is incumbent on all affected spectrum users to engage with and respond to the FCC. To get a feeling for the responses of radio astronomy, open the FCC's comment search tool and seek out your favorite organization or institution of higher learning.

International Agencies and Regulations (ITU and the rest of the regulatory world)

ITU-R, the radio bureau of the International Telecommunicatons Union (a UN agency in Geneva) sets radio telecommuncations policy world-wide. Every 3-4 years, a World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) crafts new treaty language to which member states subsequently adhere by national adoption (with some leeway). Each WRC also drafts the issues and agenda for its successor, as a reaction to the evolving nature of radio technology and spectrum use. The ITU-R currently considers the radio spectrum to extend up to 3000 GHz and makes allocations up to 275 GHz.

Radio astronomy is one of the so-called "passive services", grouped with earth sensing. Its interests are nominally represented at the ITU-R in Working Party 7D (the D-th working party of Study Group 7). In practice, WP7D meetings are often attended by non-radio astronomers whose interests are not exactly aligned with those of radio astronomy. World Radio Congress (WRC) meetings are huge gatherings (~2000 delegates), attended by a dozen or so radio astronomers. The organization of the ITU-R is mirrored nationally in working parties and study groups which meet locally before heading to Geneva once or twice a year. USWP7D meets monthly in telecons hosted by the NSF EMS Office and interested parties should email ems@nsf.gov.

The Agencies of Radio Astronomy

Individuals are free to offer comments to the FCC but have no standing with the ITU. For such reasons, and to marshal their resources, astronomers and other passive users have created various standing committees to represent their concerns.

The Committee on Radio Frequencies (CORF) of the US National Academy of Sciences, funded by NSF and NASA, files comments with the FCC and does policy studies on important issues. Its members represent astronomy and other passive services like earth sensing. The CORF website has useful links and information.

The Scientific Committee on Frequency Allocations for Astronomy and Space Science (IUCAF) is an International Council for Science (ICSU)-sponsored group with members appointed by International Astronomical Union (IAU), the International Union of Radio Science (URSI), and the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR). IUCAF has independent standing at the ITU and represents radio astronomy very effectively in the largest arena. It meets twice each year with WP7D in Geneva. IUCAF sponsors regular Summer Schools in spectrum management.

CRAF, the Committee on Radio Astronomy Frequencies of the European Science Foundation, was partly modelled after CORF but it employs a permanent, full-time advocate and spectrum manager and a rotating chair. In the Asia-Pacific region, an analogous role to CORF is played by the Radio Astronomy Frequency Committee in the Asia-Pacific region (RAFCAP).

The IAU co-sponsors IUCAF but also operates its own C.B7 Inter-Division B-C Commission Protection of Existing and Potential Observatory Sites which considers some of the same material. In the interests of radio astronomy, URSI operates Commission J.

The legacy NRAO Spectrum Management page can be found here.