Skip to main content

Baker: Government Lacks Long-term Spectrum Plan

CTIA president Meredith Attwell Baker said the wireless industry's need for spectrum will outstrip all the current efforts to find it, share it or free it up.

In a speech at the National Telecommunications & Information Association's (NTIA) International Symposium on Advanced Radio Technologies (ISART) in Boulder, Colo., Thursday (May 14), Baker suggested the government has no "what next" plan beyond its current spectrum efforts, and it needs to have one.

"Mobile broadband demand cannot be met by improved spectral efficiency alone," Baker told the audience. "More towers and more wireless infrastructure can never be enough; AWS-3 and the incentive auction will not suffice."

Baker is the former head of the NTIA, which oversees government spectrum use, just as the FCC oversees commercial use (she is a former FCC commissioner as well).

To handle an expected six-fold increase in already hefty data flows, the country needs infrastructure, standards and technologies, but mostly, it needs spectrum, she said, particularly licensed spectrum. Baker said while sharing spectrum is good, it should not be a substitute for clearing spectrum.

The AWS-3 auction, which freed up licensed spectrum for auction, was not a laurel to rest on, she suggested, because it would take 20 years to bring it to consumers. That is too long, particularly given that "we are already behind in identifying what’s next."

"We just had AWS-3, and the broadcast incentive auction looms ahead of us," Baker said. "and after that, right now, we don’t know what’s next."

The Obama administration in 2010 came up with a 10-year plan for freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum, but Baker said it has no plan beyond 2020.

"Because spectrum policy is a long game, we need to start planning today," she said. "Just months after AWS-3, it may seem strange to be here, saying we have to start again. But we do."

Of the need for more licensed spectrum, she said: "As a country, the U.S. cannot settle too quickly into sharing regimes that rely on unproven and complex government roles and nascent or untested technologies. We can’t ask carriers to depend upon limited and undefined access for the spectrum they need to serve tens of millions of subscribers every day."

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.