Government Spectrum Reallocation Takes Time

Some members of the House of Representatives question if the FCC and the NTIA are moving fast enough.
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Some members of the House of Representatives question if the FCC and the NTIA are moving fast enough.
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Some members of the House of Representatives question if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) are moving fast enough on freeing up broadband spectrum held by government for commercial use, especially in the 1755 MHz to 1850 MHz band.

by J.J. Smith

In addition, some members have suggested that NTIA is dragging its feet on that issue, and by not releasing frequencies within those bands quickly enough, the agencies may inhibit the development of new—especially mobile—technologies, and thereby kill jobs associated with producing such products.

However, NTIA has presented a credible case that it is moving at the quickest, most sensible pace possible, and it has supported its assertion by showing that government spectrum use—from satellite and unmanned drone command to police undercover surveillance—covers the entire continental United States. Nonetheless, NTIA also says spectrum use is not equally used by government agencies, and some government spectrum can be re-allocated more easily, and quickly, than others. Those situations exist because “an array of diverse agencies and systems” were squeezed into a single band, which makes for a more efficient use of the spectrum, but complicates the possible reallocation of that spectrum, said Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Lawrence Strickling, who also heads the NTIA.

Despite the complications associated with reallocating the spectrum, NTIA and the FCC are working to identify, and make available, about 500 MHz of spectrum currently used by commercial and federal users for fixed and mobile broadband use over the next 10 years. NTIA has produced a plan and timetable to identify 2,200 MHz of spectrum for evaluation; establish a process for evaluating those bands; and implement steps to potentially make the selected spectrum available for wireless broadband services.

As part of that plan, NTIA is overseeing the methodical review of 2,200 MHz of spectrum, including a “fast-track” review to identify spectrum-reallocation opportunities. That review has so far identified 115 MHz of broadband for reallocation.

There is a lot of evidence to support that NTIA is doing all it can to free up as much spectrum from government use as quickly as possible, but it is doing so in a slow, sober manner.

While companies need broadband spectrum to get wireless products onto the market, there are government uses of that spectrum which trump potential commercial uses, and any suggestions that NTIA or the FCC are dragging their feet on this issue ignores the varied and specialized manner in which that spectrum is used.