Use It or What? Spectrum Policy’s Empty Threat

Gregory Taylor


This article explores the development and application of the “use it or lose it” approach in the context of Canadian spectrum policy. The approach threatens to remove spectrum access from service providers who do not meet deployment conditions of licence. Is there ever any substance to “use it or lose it” policies or have they simply become a rhetorical device for regulators and politicians who wish to appear authoritative? Using primary document analysis from government and industry, as well as interviews with regulators, the article compares the pronouncements of reclaiming spectrum with the historical reality of recent spectrum policy. The research shows that this penalty has been repeatedly announced, though it is questionable if it has ever been used. While Canada provides the foundation of the case study, a comparative analysis with other countries that have announced similar positions in their spectrum policy is also included. The findings are of relevance for regulators, industry, and academics studying the political economy of telecommunications.

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