By Paul Barbagallo
The White House, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Commerce
Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration should
exhaust all options before forcing commercial mobile network operators and
federal agencies to share the nation's congested airwaves, a senior House
Republican adviser said June 19.
Ray Baum, senior policy adviser for House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on
Communications and Technology, speaking during a panel discussion at a Utilities
Telecom Council event, said the first step to solving what has been termed the
“looming spectrum crunch” is relocating federal licensees from coveted, or
“beachfront,” bands of spectrum to other bands that would be suitable for their
“Whether they like it or not, they're sitting on a lot of prime spectrum,”
Baum said of federal government agencies. “We feel that's the critical focus we
The NTIA, which manages the government's use of spectrum, concluded in a
report released in March that it is possible to free up 95 MHz of
government-held spectrum in the 1755-1850 MHz band for either exclusive or
shared use by commercial companies, but warned that some federal licensees, such
as the Department of Defense, “could remain in the band indefinitely.”
The NTIA report has led to serious conversations within government and
industry about the technical and logistical feasibility of sharing
Under a presidential executive order issued in June 2010, the NTIA and FCC
must make available for auction some 500 MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband
and similar applications by 2020.
The NTIA already has proposed that the Defense Department give up 100 MHz of
spectrum. In November 2010, NTIA released two reports identifying 115 megahertz
of spectrum for reallocation--the 3550-3650 MHz and the 1695-1710 MHz bands.
For the FCC's part, an additional 120 MHz of spectrum being sought from TV
broadcasters through “voluntary incentive auctions” would increase the amount
available for mobile broadband uses by about 22 percent, to 667 megahertz. The
NTIA, however, still must free an additional 380 MHz by 2020.
Earlier this year, the Defense Department successfully lobbied lawmakers to
remove from the Senate conferees' version of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job
Creation Act of 2012 language requiring the FCC to auction the 1755-1780 MHz
band for mobile broadband uses within three years.
Baum's boss, Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and ranking member Anna Eshoo
(D-Calif.) in April announced the formation of a bipartisan working group to
study how spectrum controlled by the federal government can be used more
Subcommittee leaders are expected to release preliminary results of a first
working group report later this summer.
During the same panel discussion, Thomas Power, deputy chief technology
officer for telecommunications in the White House's Office of Science and
Technology Policy, said the task of moving federal agencies off of spectrum will
Most of the 3,300 federal assignments within the 1755-1850 MHz, for example,
are licensed for point-to-point fixed microwave use by the departments of Energy
and Homeland Security, and the Federal Aviation Administration. The Department
of Defense also makes use of the spectrum for military satellites,
precision-guided munitions training, and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Power noted that, unlike with competitive bidding, the government's spectrum
is allocated based on “what they need and where they need it.” However, most
federal agencies use their spectrum only sporadically, which creates
opportunities for mobile network operators to use it during non-peak
The key, Power said, will be to try to shrink “exclusion zones”--those areas
where the spectrum cannot be used by commercial companies. That way, carriers
will have a reasonable expectation “where” the spectrum can be used
The White House appears more amendable than Republicans to implementing a
sharing program. The President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology
(PCAST) is planning to recommend that Obama call for as much as 1,000 MHz of
government-held spectrum be shared with commercial broadband networks.
The council will detail the recommendation in a new report to be released
within the next several weeks.