White House Investing $100 Million in Government Spectrum Initiative

The White House Friday is announcing a $100 million,
multi-prong initiative to free up more government spectrum via spectrum sharing
and spectrum efficiency that could also allow for relinquishing spectrum. That
is according to a White House official on background.

At the same time, the Administration is releasing a report
promoting the advances and investment in broadband under the Obama

Two years ago, the president called for what he said was a
deficit reduction plan to deploy high-speed wireless services to at least 98%
of Americans, including those in more remote rural communities, while freeing
up spectrum through incentive auctions, spurring innovation, and creating a
nationwide, interoperable wireless network for public safety. He included his
wireless broadband deployment plan as part of the American Jobs Act.

The new initiatives include a presidential directive to
federal agencies "to enhance the efficiency of their use of spectrum and
make more capacity available to satisfy the skyrocketing demand of consumer and
business broadband users." 

The memorandum creates a White House-based Spectrum Policy
Team to oversee implementation and make further recommendations.

The president is also pledging $100 million in R&D
support. By September, the National Science Foundation will award $23 million
in spectrum-sharing research and development grants and DARPA will announce the
first of a planned $60 million in contracts for federal spectrum sharing
efforts over the next five years.

The National Telecommunications and Information
Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will
spend another $17.5 million on spectrum and advanced communications research
and to encourage more public-private collaboration.

There will also be a Spectrum Technology Day to
"showcase advances in spectrum sharing and other innovations aimed at
solving the so-called 'spectrum crunch.'"

"Connecting the middle class to the benefits of the
digital age is a critical piece of the president's economic plan," said
the official. "To create jobs and grow wages at home, and to compete in
the global information economy, we have a national imperative to deliver fast,
affordable and reliable service to all corners of the United States. Moreover,
the construction of broadband infrastructure itself is a major driver of
American investment and job creation."

The administration has been under pressure from Congress to
find more government spectrum to contribute to the 500 MHz the president wants
to free up by the end of the decade.

The broadcast incentive auctions could free up as much 120
MHz, though likely less given spectrum coordination issues with Canada and
Mexico, and NTIAhas found about 200 more.

The new initiative is the second in as many weeks. On June
6, the [resident announced the ConnectED initiative to connect 99% of students
to high speed broadband (at least 100 Mbps, and preferably 1 gigabit) within
five years with the help of the FCC's E-rate subsidy program.

In association with the new initiative, the White House
released a report, Four Years of Broadband growth, that as its name suggests,
touts the administration's broadband efforts to date, including the "light
touch" network neutrality regs.

It also suggests that while current government definitions
of high-speed are 3 Mbps downstream and 768 kbps upstream, or in some cases 4
Mbps/1 Mbps, "10 Mbps downstream is an increasingly 'basic' speed,"
but even more is likely needed.

The report identifies the Obama's key contributions to
broadband advancement as "(1) stoking broadband investment through the
Recovery Act; (2) providing tax incentives for business investment; (3) freeing
up spectrum for mobile broadband; and (4) a light-touch, multi-stakeholder
approach to regulation that has fostered both innovation in applications and
deployment of infrastructure."

But the Administration can't toot its own horn without
making some noise for the private industry that did most of the investing and
build-out, which is inherent in the stats it cites, though it ties them to
Administration's economic and regulatory policies.

"By nearly any metric the last four years have been a
period of tremendous growth in broadband infrastructure, access, and the
digital economy upon which they rely," the report says. "Today, about
91% of Americans have access to wired broadband speeds of at least 10 Mbps
downstream, and 81% of Americans have access to similarly fast mobile wireless

And private industry gets much of the credit. "[T]he
private sector has been driving important advances in infrastructure and
technology," the report says. "In fact, since President Obama took
office in early 2009, nearly $250 billion in private capital has been invested
in U.S. wired and wireless broadband networks. In just the last two years, more
high-speed fiber cables have been laid in the United States than in any similar
period since 2000."

But the report also says many markets are subject to limited
competition and that "significant challenges remain in adoption, price and

is the lifeblood of our Nation's wireless economy. It is a scarce public
resource that must be used wisely. That's why I applaud today's Presidential
Memorandum: it represents an innovative new strategy to help meet our Nation's
growing spectrum needs," said Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), chairman of the
Senate Commerce Committee. "Providing greater transparency; directing
federal agencies to be more efficient and to provide data on their actual
spectrum use; calling for incentives for federal users to share or relinquish
spectrum are all critical to identifying more spectrum."

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.