NTIA's Redl: Days of Easy Spectrum Decisions Are Over

National Telecommunications & Information Administration administrator David Redl said the country needs to change its approach to spectrum policy. One way to do that, a new national spectrum strategy he is helping implement, should be out soon, he said this week. But he also said another big change is not to view the competition between satellite and terrestrial spectrum users as a zero sum game.

"[O]ur current approach of piecemeal, band-by-band spectrum policymaking is not sustainable. The opportunities are drying up and it is an inefficient process that too often devolves into a zero-sum game," Redl told the Satellite Industry Association in a speech in Washington May 6.

Related: NAB Says Spectrum Plan Must Be Based on Engineering, Not Sloganeer

President Donald Trump has charged NTIA with helping develop and implement a National Spectrum Strategy, including reaching rural areas "desperate to get online." Redl said that should be out sometime this summer.

The FCC is is in the process of opening up various bands of spectrum for next gen terrestrial wireless, including the C-band, which is currently used for satellite transmissions of cable and broadcast networks but which the Trump Administration plans to open up for sharing with 5G wireless providers. It has been a contentious issue among incumbents, satellite operators and potential new terrestrial wireless users, including how much spectrum to free up, how to to that--auction or marketplace deals--and how to protect incumbents.

"Competition for spectrum resources has never been more contentious, and we must change to reflect this new reality," Redl said.

Related: Commerce Secretary Names 2019 Spectrum Advisory Committee

But that doesn't mean allowing it to devolve into a pitched battle between terrestrial and satellite, he suggested. "In this era of competition for spectrum resources, it can be easy to think that we’re in a winner-take-all battle, but that mindset asks us to make false choices that will shortchange America...We don’t have to choose between terrestrial 5G and satellite services. To start with, satellite will play an important role in 5G connectivity, but perhaps more to the point these uses are not mutually exclusive; it’s just going to take hard work for them to continue to coexist in a more contentious spectrum environment.

Related: CTIA Unveils Its National Spectrum Plan

NTIA last fall sought public input on the plan, which NTIA said needs to include increasing access to spectrum, improving sharing, enhancing spectrum management and "leveraging" ongoing R&D.

Related: NCTA Says National Spectrum Plan Should Be Balanced

The President made clear that with the burgeoning need for spectrum for the industry, the government has to make a concerted effort to free up more of its spectrum, including to make sure America wins in 5G. "Federal agencies must thoughtfully consider whether and how their spectrum-dependent mission needs might be met more efficiently and effectively, including through new technology and ingenuity," he wrote.

Redl also put in a plug for satellite delivered broadband.

"High-speed broadband from satellite is a cost-effective way to connect rural Americans, satellite backhaul will be a critical component in terrestrial 5G systems in rural America, and SatCOWs – satellite cells-on-wheels – are essential elements when restoring terrestrial wireless service in times of disaster," he said. 

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.