House Commerce Committee Wants Monthly Updates From Federal Agencies on Spectrum Realignment

House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman
Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) are asking for
monthly updates from the FCC, Department of Defense and the National
Telecommunications and Information Administration about accelerating their
efforts to turn over government-held spectrum for commercial use. 

"The agencies seem to be pointing fingers at in
each" to justify why they are not meeting President Obama's
"directives to free up the federal spectrum," Waxman said following
Thursday's hearing by the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee. At
the session, the agencies offered explanations and excuses for their slow
actions during conversations, which began in 2004. Various plans call for
spectrum sharing and auctions of military and government airwaves to commercial
users, especially wireless carriers.

Although broadcast spectrum reallocations were barely
mentioned during the hearing, the overall spectrum access issue -- especially
for wireless carriers -- has a significant impact on their need to acquire
airwaves now used by TV stations.

"I'm convinced we can upgrade federal systems while
freeing spectrum, thereby promoting both our nation's safety and economic
well-being," said subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) as he opened
the session on "Equipping Carriers and Agencies in the Wireless Era."

"We're serious about trying to compress this timetable
and get answers," Walden said. "We can create additional spectrum
opportunities...through use of the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act,"
he added, citing the CSEA law that would make commercial providers bear the
cost of moving federal incumbents to clear spectrum.

The Pentagon came under most criticism for foot-dragging,
especially its reluctance to release spectrum in the 1755 to 1780 MHz range.
DoD chief information officer Teresa Takai claimed that the bandwidth is
essential for pilot training and also said that budget issues have restrained
military plans to put "innovative technologies into those
systems."  Takai warned about the security and other challenges of
sharing information with the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee,
which includes industry executives. 

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the subcommittee's ranking
Democrat, vowed that Congress will develop incentive for agencies to relinquish
or share their spectrum

"The same-old, same-old that prevailed for years is not
going to be accepted around here," Eschew emphasized.

Karl Nebbia, association administrator of the NTIA's Office
of Spectrum Management, testified that "DoD and industry are seeking
improved information sharing by working with a subset of ... 'Trusted Agents,'
[in a working group] through whom sensitive information could be shared under
non-disclosure agreements."  He also acknowledged the progress of
"transition planning and preparation for the auction of the 1695-1730 MHz
and 1755-17-80 bands, in the face of uncertain clearing and sharing

Nebbia assured the subcommittee that NTIA "supports the
FCC's efforts... [to] conduct the auction and complete the subsequent licensing
process [by the] February 2015 deadline."

Underscoring the complexity of the spectrum overhaul, Nebbia
also singled out "law enforcement surveillance systems" which have priority
in the various agencies' evaluation of certain spectrum allocations.

Chris Guttmann-McCabe, executive VP of CTIA: The Wireless
Association and the only industry witness at the subcommittee hearing,
explained a "proposed relocation ‘roadmap'" that CTIA has developed
to identify where government bands can be relocated plus benchmark costs. 
He cited $4.7 billion as a target for moving government bands and claimed that
the plan would enable services "to migrate to suitable alternative bands
and state-of-the art equipment in a way that maintains and protects Federal
users' ability to execute their missions while alleviating risk" to
consumers and companies. 

Walden directed Guttman-McCabe to hand over his roadmap to

Although no broadcast or media executives were part of this
week's hearing, the future wireless needs of their audiences was on the table,
too.    Dean Brenner, senior VP-government affairs for
chip-maker Qualcomm, opened the hearing with a description of "femtocells,"
the low-power equipment used in systems such as home networks.  Predicting
that up to 20% of Americans will have such home networking facilities by 2018,
Brenner cited his company's "1000x Challenge" - to expand wireless
capacity 1,000-fold, which will require greater consumer access to spectrum.

"We need more spectrum - far more spectrum,"
Brenner stressed.  "We need more clear, exclusive use licensed
spectrum, such as the 600 MHz spectrum from the voluntary incentive
auction" as well as unlicensed spectrum.  He cited an Authorized
Shared Access process that Qualcomm and other companies have established to
enable commercial use of a band such as 3.5 GHz, which requires licensed
spectrum to avoid interference.

Beyond the federal agencies' vows to keep
negotiating and update Congress on progress, this week's hearing generated more
information about the problems, but few tangible clues about the timetable or
actual implementation of any spectrum overhaul.

Gary Arlen

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.