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DOD Nears Spectrum Sharing Deal With Broadcasters for Commercial Auction

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

By Bryce Baschuk  

Nov. 19 --The Defense Department has nearly finalized a spectrum-sharing agreement with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) that could potentially free up the 1755-1780 megahertz (MHz) band for a commercial auction, sources told Bloomberg BNA.

Under the terms of the agreement, Defense is planning to transition many of its communications systems related to aircraft pilot training, drones, missile guidance and others from the 1755-1780 MHz band onto the 2025-2110 MHz band on a shared basis. Broadcasters currently use the 2025-2110 MHz band for broadcast auxiliary services to transmit live video content from breaking news scenes, among other uses. It was unclear Nov. 19 whether all federal systems would be relocated from the 1755-1780 MHz band.

Rick Kaplan, NAB's executive vice president of strategic planning, told Bloomberg BNA in a Nov. 19 interview that the agreement will be historic. “Neither DOD nor the broadcasters have anything to gain, this is all to aid the commercial wireless industry,” Kaplan said. “The fact that this all came together, if it happens, would be pretty monumental.”

Lawmakers have urged Defense officials to work with spectrum stakeholders in order to vacate the 1755-1780 MHz band so it can be paired with the 2155-2180 MHz band, also known as the AWS-3 band, which is required to be auctioned by the Federal Communications Commission by February 2015. Pairing the two bands “would yield substantially greater auction revenues than if those bands were auctioned separately,” a group of senators said in an Aug. 1 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and former acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn.

Carriers are particularly eager to pair the 1755-1780 MHz and 2155-2180 MHz bands because it could facilitate international roaming with numerous countries that have allocated the same bands for commercial wireless use. A spokesman for CTIA-The Wireless Association declined to comment.

Funds For FirstNet

Freeing the 1755-1780 MHz band for commercial wireless broadband use could help bring two major administration initiatives closer to fruition:

 

• Increased revenue from the AWS-3 auction would help fund the deployment of FirstNet, a $7 billion nationwide broadband network for first responders, and

• bring the country 25 MHz closer to meeting President Barack Obama's goal of reallocating 500 MHz of spectrum for commercial mobile broadband use by 2020.

 

“We understand what's at stake here,” Kaplan said. “Both NAB and DOD are working to try and get something done so there can be a successful auction done on 1755-1780 MHz, which will raise a lot of money for FirstNet, which we understand is a very important goal.”

Kaplan said the deal includes an initial framework to coordinate the use of the band so that federal spectrum users and broadcasters do not interfere with each other's transmissions. The second phase of the framework would coordinate the geographic regions where defense systems would have priority over broadcast use and vice versa, he said. “We are trying to find ways where they can get their systems out of the 1755-1780 MHz and into our band in a way that won't harm our broadcasting,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan said that the agreement is “headed in a very good direction” but had not yet been finalized by DOD or the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Spokesmen from NTIA and the Defense Department declined to comment.

Defense Department Turnaround

“There has been a remarkable turnaround at DOD over two years with regard to their willingness to work on clearance issues,” said Public Knowledge Senior Vice President Harold Feld. “The fact that over the course of this year they have worked very diligently to find a way to make this work is a dramatic turnaround and an important development in terms of federal spectrum management,” he said.

Defense officials previously persuaded Congress to remove a provision from the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (Pub. L. No. 112-96) that would have required the FCC to pair the 1755-1780 MHz and 2155-2180 MHz bands for auction. In August, Defense Chief Information Officer Teri Takai offered to open up the 1755-1780 MHz band for sale by the FCC for wireless broadband use as long as the military is permitted to continue its operations in the 1780-1850 MHz band and have shared access to the 2025-2110 MHz band, among other conditions.

The agreement could potentially take the pressure off FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to maximize revenue in the upcoming broadcast spectrum incentive auction, said Feld. If the 1755-1780 MHz band is cleared and auctioned before the commission's 600 MHz auction the revenue could potentially pay down much of the $7 billion appropriated for FirstNet, he said.

“You might raise the entire revenue for FirstNet out of a decent 1755 MHz auction,” said Feld. “That would give the commission considerably more leeway with regards to the design of the incentive auction in terms of things like spectrum aggregation limits and space allocated for unlicensed use.”

Spectrum Working Group

A staffer on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology recently told Bloomberg BNA that the spectrum agreement was close to the finish line and credited the work of the spectrum working group with pushing the ball forward. Since June the subcommittee's staffers have held monthly bipartisan meetings with spectrum officials from DOD, FCC and NTIA to target federal spectrum that can be reallocated or shared with carriers for mobile broadband use. The working group plans another meeting with federal stakeholders this month.

“We're glad to see NTIA, the FCC, and other relevant players moving toward agreements that will open up spectrum for mobile broadband use,” said Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press. “We need a mixture of sharing and clearing, and 1755-1780 is obviously a good candidate for clearing.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at bbaschuk@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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