Biden Administration’s National Spectrum Strategy Lacks Specifics

National Spectrum Strategy
(Image credit: White House)

The Biden administration has released a long-awaited National Spectrum Strategy, but one lacking the specifics sought by some industry players.

That strategy, released Monday (November 13) by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, rests on the following four “pillars”: 1) a spectrum pipeline to feed advanced and emerging tech; 2) collaborative, long-term planning for evolving spectrum needs; 3) “unprecedented and innovative access to spectrum, including dynamic sharing and spectrum management;” and 4) greater spectrum expertise and national awareness of the importance of spectrum.

While the administration was getting credit for having a plan and for including both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, some critics were disappointed the strategy did not include specifics on which spectrum would be getting that “unprecedented and innovative access.”

The strategy essentially reaffirms existing spectrum policies while setting out a process for, well, setting out a process.  

“Simply put, the United States needs a better and more consistent process for bringing the public and private sectors together to work through the difficult issues surrounding access to spectrum, including dynamic forms of spectrum sharing,” the strategy asserted. “The U.S. Government will build upon existing constructs to enable consistent, robust and transparent engagement among stakeholders and will publish an implementation plan with details about responsible parties and timelines to achieve specific outcomes associated with each strategic objective identified herein. This will help to address spectrum challenges facing the Nation, including charting a path to satisfy current and future spectrum access requirements.”

Republican FCC commissioner Brendan Carr was not happy with the lack of specifics.

“Bold and immediate action on spectrum is vital,” Carr said in a statement. “So how much spectrum does the Biden administration’s spectrum plan commit to providing? Zero. After nearly three years of study, the Biden administration does not commit to freeing up even a single MHz of spectrum. Instead, they are announcing that they will continue studying the issue for years to come.”

NCTA: The Internet & Television Association applauded the inclusion of unlicensed spectrum and sharing, but was not so happy with the plan to further study of the lower 3-GHz band. It said that could “threaten and delay the adoption of viable spectrum sharing approaches that will advance innovation and competition for consumers.”

NCTA, whose members have built some of the nation's largest WiFi networks, have called on the FCC to work with the NTIA to free up spectrum in the lower GHz bands for unlicensed and shared use. Finding more spectrum is critical to the growth of the Internet of Things, NCTA said, having pointed out that millions of IoT devices attach to its members’ networks, in many cases through WiFi services and equipment supplied by those members.

Michael Calabrese of the Open Technology Institute of America's Wireless Future Project conceded the plan is a high-level view without any specific decisions about specific bands, but was pleased to see collaboration as part of the blueprint. 

“The administration’s strategy clearly recognizes that coordinated spectrum sharing will need to play a leading role in shaping a balanced approach that makes far more unlicensed, exclusively licensed and coordinated shared spectrum access available to meet an increasingly wide variety of innovative local enterprise and public-sector use cases,” he said.

Calling a healthy spectrum pipeline critical to the future of U.S. connectivity, ACA Connects president and CEO Grant Spellmeyer said his group representing smaller, independent cable MSOs looked forward to advancing the spectrum conversation with the NTIA, the White House and other stakeholders. 

“Meeting the ever-growing demands for wireless spectrum will require us to use every tool in the toolbox — including exclusive use, unlicensed use and sharing,” Spellmeyer said. “It also will require government users to use spectrum efficiently and make spectrum available for commercial use.”

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.