NTIA Approves Plan for 2014 Relocation of Federal Spectrum

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By Bryce Baschuk  

Nov. 25 --The Department of Defense has agreed to relocate its key operations away from the 1755-1780 megahertz (MHz) band and share spectrum in the 2025-2110 MHz band with broadcasters, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced.

NTIA approved on Nov. 25 a road map that would free up much of the valuable 1755-1780 MHz band for commercial auction in the fall of 2014. An NTIA official told reporters that some federal systems like tactical radio relay services, satellite communications and air combat training systems would probably remain in the 1755-1780 MHz band.

Defense will transition many of its communications systems related to aircraft pilot training, drones, missile guidance and other functions from the 1755-1780 MHz band to the 2025-2110 MHz band on a shared basis. Broadcasters and some cable operators currently use the 2025-2110 MHz band for broadcast auxiliary services (BAS) to transmit live video content from breaking news scenes, among other uses. Other federal systems like law enforcement video surveillance operations in the 1755-1780 MHz band will be relocated to frequencies above 1780 MHz, the NTIA official said.

The NTIA official said DOD and BAS users have penned a basic agreement to share the spectrum band but will still have to coordinate their ongoing use of the frequencies so as to avoid interference. The federal relocation efforts will be funded by forthcoming spectrum auction proceeds and paid out of the spectrum relocation fund that was allocated under the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act (Pub. L. No. 108-494, Title II). NTIA officials did not provide an estimate of the cost to relocate federal systems from the band.

NTIA's road map, outlined in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, urges the FCC to make specific changes to the U.S. table of frequency allocations to account for Defense's reallocated operations. An FCC spokesman said the agency welcomes NTIA's letter, and “recognize[s] that continued coordination among NTIA, other federal agencies, industry, and the FCC will be key to freeing up federal spectrum and achieving the goals established by Congress in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act.”

Lawmakers Praise Agreement

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) said the Nov. 25 action “moves us one step closer to maximizing auction revenues in order to provide critical funding for FirstNet,” a nationwide communications network for first responders, according to a statement e-mailed by his spokesman. Agency observers previously told Bloomberg BNA that if the 1755-1780 MHz band is cleared and auctioned the revenue could potentially pay down much of the $7 billion appropriated for FirstNet.

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. The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (Pub. L. No. 112-96) requires the FCC to auction and license spectrum in the AWS-3 band by February 2015.

Scott Bergmann, vice president, regulatory affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association said the group is hopeful that the 1755-1780 MHz band is ready in time to pair with 2155-2180 MHz band. “Pairing these bands will maximize their value to industry and consumers alike, and generate significant revenue for the U.S. Treasury,” Bergmann said in an e-mail statement.

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. The government has not yet coordinated future international spectrum use of the 1755-1780 MHz band along the borders of Canada and Mexico but the countries are interested in aligning their policies with the U.S., the NTIA official told Bloomberg BNA.

Rick Kaplan, executive vice president of strategic planning at the National Association of Broadcasters, said of the Nov. 25 developments: “This is very good for the wireless industry; they are the biggest winner here.”

Kaplan said the agreement will preserve broadcasters' rights to use spectrum in the 2025-2110 MHz band. “It gives us a greater sense of long-term certainty and we are glad the administration batted back the idea to take spectrum away from broadcasters,” he said. “Any attempt to dig into that spectrum and give it to the wireless industry has been thwarted and rightly so.”

Requires Ongoing Coordination

Kaplan said the agreement will require a good deal of coordination to ensure that Defense operations don't interfere with broadcast operations and vice versa. The Society of Broadcast Engineers will monitor Defense spectrum use and notify the agency if there is a conflict, Kaplan said. “It will not be something that will be used every day,” he said.

Senate Commerce Committee ranking member John Thune (R-S.D.) said of the agreement: “It has been a long and bumpy road, but I commend the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, the Federal Communications Commission, and the broadcasting and wireless industries for working cooperatively to make today's plan a reality,” he said in a news release.

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) said the agreement will “responsibly relocate DOD to a comparable band that does not in any way jeopardize our nation's military capabilities,” according to a news release. “That was the goal from the start and I'm pleased that the process is meeting that objective. The agreement will also inch us one step closer towards injecting additional spectrum into our innovation economy.”

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

See NTIA's letter here: http://op.bna.com/der.nsf/r?Open=sbay-9dsrmb.