Karla Hoffman, a professor in the Department of Systems Engineering and Operations Research, and five Mason graduates were part of a Federal Communications Commission team that won the prestigious 2018 Franz Edelman Award.
“We are honored to have been part of this award-winning project,” Hoffman says. “I could not be prouder of our Mason graduates. They took on a challenging project and produced remarkable results.”
The back story: The FCC is responsible for allocating the radio frequency spectrum in the United States to different uses, such as over-the-air television, satellites and cell phones, she says.
As wireless broadband use exploded, the agency recognized that more spectrum would be required to support the surging demand. The FCC decided to use an auction to buy back spectrum from one service and then, nearly simultaneously, sell the cleared spectrum to the wireless providers in a separate auction.
“The unique aspect of this project was the fact that the FCC trusted outside experts, including operations research analysts from George Mason University, to create the first-ever two-sided spectrum auction to reclaim spectrum,” Hoffman says. “It is especially gratifying to me to see our Mason graduates being recognized for the operations research and analytics talents so important to this effort.”
The Mason team included Steven Charbonneau, PhD Information Technology '04 and MS Operations Research '95 and MS Systems Engineering '96; James Costa, MS Operations Research '12; Brian Smith, MS Operations Research '15; Dinesh Menon, MS Operations Research '08; and Melissa Dunford, MS Mathematics '99; as well as four other experts.
This group developed sophisticated mathematical models to help determine how to rearrange the television stations onto fewer channels, freeing up the spectrum that would then be auctioned off to the wireless providers, Hoffman says. The optimization team worked side-by-side with FCC staff from the early design phase until the successful completion of the auction.
The results: By purchasing spectrum from TV broadcasters and reselling it to wireless providers, the auction repurposed 84 MHz of TV spectrum for mobile broadband, next-generation “5-G,” and for other Internet of things wireless uses, raised nearly $20 billion in revenue, and contributed over $7 billion to reduce the federal deficit.
“To be presented with the Franz Edelman Award, which recognizes the greatest achievements in operations research and analytics, is an incredible testament to the ground-breaking work of our incentive auction team,” says FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “The auction … would not have been possible without the use of operations research tools to solve complex design and implementation challenges.”
The FCC has also recognized the value of operations research to guide other policy decisions. Pai says, “The success of these tools speaks for itself, and the team’s work is exemplary of the data-driven approach to policymaking that I believe should be this agency’s hallmark."
On January 31, the FCC approved the creation of a new Office of Economics and Analytics to bring together economists and data scientists from across the agency to facilitate improved integration of economics and analytics with policymaking.
First awarded in 1972, the Franz Edelman Award recognizes and rewards outstanding contributions of analytics and O.R. in the for- and non-profit sectors around the world.
We are honored to have been part of this award-winning project. I could not be prouder of our Mason graduates. They took on a challenging project and produced remarkable results.