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CTIA's Baker: Long-Term Spectrum Plan Is Lacking

CTIA president Meredith Attwell Baker says that 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 Administration's (NTIA) International Symposium on Advanced Radio Technologies (ISART) in Boulder, Colo., Thursday, Baker suggested there was no "what next" government plan beyond current spectrum efforts, and there needed to be.

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

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

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

Baker suggested the AWS-3 auction, which freed up licensed spectrum for auction, was not a laurel to rest on because it would take 20 years to bring it to consumers, which she said 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," she 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 there is no plan beyond 2020. "Because spectrum policy is a long game, we need to start planning today. 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."

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.