House Panel Agrees Spectrum Planning Is Crucial

The House Communications Subcommittee is busy on the government spectrum front, signaling that the FCC needs to help come up with a plan for auctioning free-up government spectrum and identifying potential new bands for clearing and sharing.

That was the subject of a House Communications Subcommittee hearing, where there are a number of bills in the works to goose the FCC effort and incentivize government agencies to fully engage in the process.

Among the takeaways from the hearing was that sharing, rather than relocating, is a good short-term solution, but that, long=term, there needs to be a planning and research and development and that it is key for agencies to be shown the upside of cooperating.

Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) was not talking about broadcasters and their auction, but was sounding like one of them when he expressed the importance of

limiting impairments and providing as much information as possible to potential bidder, two things broadcasters had pushed for in their incentive auction, the last spectrum auction on the FCC's calendar in the near term

Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) when he talked about the need for flexible spectrum policies given the multiple downlink vs. single uplink and receiver standards issues.

He got to the meat of the meeting from the getgo, asking witness Dennis Roberson, a computer science professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology and spectrum advisor to government agencies, what particular spectrum the FCC should be looking to free up. Roberson identified various bands he said could be shared, including 1-1.7 GHz. 2/7-3 GHz and 4.2-4.4 GHz. Those are currently being used for satellite communications, weather radar, and plane altimeters, respectively, clearly all important uses. But he said there were ways to share those bands.

The issue of potential interference between incumbent government users and private sharers was a hot topic, but most panelists said that is was going to be a tradeoff in virtually any scenario since at least some interference is unavoidable.

Another takeaway was how important unlicensed spectrum is, both to the witnesses like Phillip Berenbroick of public knowledge, and to legislators like Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the subcommittee, who whose Silicon Valley district is home to 'net companies clamoring for all the unlicensed spectrum they can get.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the full committee, also talked about unlicensed as a driver of innovation and asked Berenbroick to weigh in on the fact that while he said unlicensed has been calculated to provide a $220 billion annual boost to the economy, the Congressional Budget Office scores freeing up that spectrum at "zero," meaning that while CBO scores auctioning spectrum as worth billions to the treasury, it treats freeing up unlicensed as though the government wasn't getting anything for that valuable spectrum.

Berenbroick said it as disappointing to see unlicensed not get its due and he would be happy to work with Congress to make sure that CBO scoring is not a roadblock to freeing up unlicensed. He also said that $220 billion may be undervaluing unlicensed, saying freeing it up was a bet on an Internet of things future

Legislators appeared in agreement that there is an insatiable appetite for spectrum, that the government needs to free up more of it, and that long-range planning, research and development, and a cooperative approach were all needed to free up more government spectrum for private 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.