Bill Would Speed Pairing of Wireless Spectrum

The FCC is getting some help from Congress in trying to speed the transfer of government and commercial spectrum to wireless broadband.

Legislation was introduced Thursday in the House that would light a fire under an FCC-backed effort to pair 25 MHz of government spectrum with already available commercial spectrum to create a block that could be gotten relatively quickly into the hands of spectrum-hungry wireless broadband providers.

The Efficient Use of Government Spectrum Act, introduced by Reps. Cliff Stearns (R-Calif.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) both members of the Communications Subcommittee, would require the FCC to pair the 1755-1780 block the National Telecommunications & Information Administration has identified could be freed up from government use with the 2155-2180 block already available for auction. It gives the Department of Defense and other government agencies, which are currently using the band, five years to exit and provide "adequate protections for reallocation, including reimbursements for planning costs and the acquisition of state-of-the-art replacement systems."

While NTIA had identified that 25 MHz between 2155 and 2180, it had made it a part of a larger block of 95 MHz identified for clearing or sharing and the FCC and wireless companies were concerned that it could be tied up for up to a decade with the effort to clear all that spectrum.

NTIA has said that while the agency is looking at a comprehensive approach and it made sense to look at the whole 95 MHz, that does not mean it can't look at the lower 25 MHz "as soon as possible. We can look at the lower 25 on a priority basis," she said.

NTIA has also said that it supports "convening discussions between industry and the relevant federal agencies under the auspices of the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee, with the goal of finding ways to work together through sharing or other means to reduce the time and expense of repurposing the 1755-1850 MHz band, while maintaining essential Federal capabilities and maximizing commercial utilization."

Not surprisingly, CTIA: The Wireless Association applauded the bill. "Reallocation of the 1755 to 1780 megahertz band is a high priority for CTIA and its members and so we welcome introduction of the Stearns-Matsui bill," said VP of government affairs Jot Carpenter. "We hope that this and other bands currently occupied but often underutilized by federal users will be made available for commercial use as expeditiously as possible. Freeing spectrum like the 1755 to 1780 megahertz band is key to helping ensure that the U.S. remains the world's leader in the deployment of wireless broadband services."

The Consumer Electronics Association -- the folks who make all those wireless devices that need spectrum -- praised the bill. "This legislation represents an important effort in reallocating our nation's valuable spectrum for wireless broadband," said CEA President Gary Shapiro, "while raising much-needed funds for the U.S. Treasury. The 1755-1780 MHz band represents key spectrum that our nation's innovators need to deploy robust mobile broadband networks for the benefit of all Americans."

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.