NTIA Chief Pushes Incentive Auctions, Urges More Funding for Spectrum Relocation

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National Telecommunications and Information Administrator Lawrence Strickling urged lawmakers July 6 to move forward on legislation that would authorize the Federal Communications Commission to hold incentive auctions of broadcast spectrum and address the funding needs of federal spectrum users, who would be relocated as part of the process of reallocating airwaves for future mobile broadband uses.

In the FCC's National Broadband Plan, the agency set a goal of reallocating 500 megahertz of spectrum for mobile broadband and similar applications by 2020, of which 300 MHz between 225 MHz and 3.7 GHz would be made available by 2015.

President Obama formally endorsed that goal in a presidential memorandum signed last June, charging both the FCC and the NTIA with identifying and freeing up some 500 MHz of spectrum that is now controlled by the federal government and private companies.

“Legislation that accomplishes the goals of improving spectrum management, providing a modern communications for the nation's first responders, while at the same time providing for considerable deficit reduction, is a compelling policy opportunity we must pursue to win the future and live within our means,” Strickling told members of the House Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee July 6.

As part of voluntary incentive auctions, incumbent licensees, including television broadcasters who license spectrum through the FCC, could release some of it back to the government in exchange for a share of the auction proceeds. For federal agencies that relinquish prime slices of spectrum, legislation should provide for funding and resources needed for relocation and sharing, Strickling said, in addition to resources required for up-front planning to determine the total costs and timeline for relocation.

Strickling told the subcommittee that the NTIA has been studying the feasibility of repurposing spectrum in the coveted 1755-1850 megahertz band within the next decade as part of the multi-agency initiative to free up 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband connectivity.

So far, the NTIA has identified 115 MHz of government-held spectrum for reallocation over the next five years for commercial wireless broadband internet services—100 MHz currently occupied by the Department of Defense and used for radar systems and naval vessels and 15 MHz used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for weather balloons and satellites.

Last November, NTIA released two reports identifying that 115 megahertz of spectrum for reallocation—the 3550-3650 MHz and the 1695-1710 MHz bands. The 1755-1780 MHz band, however, is the most coveted by wireless industry, which wants regulators to pair the 1755-1780 MHz band with the AWS (advanced wireless service)-3 band and auction it.

Strickling said the agency will continue studying the 1755-1850 MHz band in consultation with the Policy and Plans Steering Group, a high-level interagency group, with the intention to complete a review by September.

“Our search for 500 MHz of spectrum is as important an undertaking as any,” Strickling said.

He noted that the NTIA and FCC are working off a “candidate list” of 2,200 MHz total spectrum, which includes some bands that are “underutilized” by commercial users.

When pressed by Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) about the fact that the majority of the 115 MHz of spectrum that has been “fast-tracked” by the NTIA for reallocation is considered low-grade for mobile broadband applications, Strickling expressed optimism.

“We have a long time horizon here,” he said. “What may be unattractive to the industry may be attractive to industry later on.”

In a statement released following the hearing, Steve Largent, president and chief executive officer of CTIA-The Wireless Association, credited NTIA for its work to free up spectrum for mobile broadband use.

“A continued careful analysis of government spectrum use is key to ensuring that we succeed with the president's and the FCC's goal of bringing 500 MHz of spectrum, sufficient for mobile broadband, to market,” he said. “CTIA applauds NTIA for prioritizing its review of the spectrum in the 1755-1850 band. This spectrum, and the 1755-1780 band in particular, is essential for delivering on the promise of robust mobile broadband.”

By Paul Barbagallo  

For Strickling's full testimony, visit http://energycommerce.house.gov/hearings/hearingdetail.aspx?NewsID=8759 .