September 15, 2012
Wireless Spectrum Sharing Plans Under Fire By Government Agencies
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Despite an FCC announcement recently regarding wireless spectrum sharing between the US government and the private sector, lawmakers and oversight committees argue that federal officials aren't doing enough to get unused spectrum into commercial hands.
On Wednesday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and members of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) announced that the former institution would begin implementing recommendations from the latter before the end of the year.
Specifically, the FCC will begin by freeing up approximately 100 megahertz worth of spectrum in the 3.5GHz band for small cell use, according to Jon Brodkin of Ars Technica. A PCAST report had previously recommended "sharing" spectrum currently used for radar in the 3550-3650 range with wireless carriers, and while the FCC's press release does not use that specific language, a company spokesperson confirmed to Brodkin that would, in fact, be the organization's proposed course of action.
"Today´s iPhone announcement and last week´s release of the new Kindle Fire, Windows 8/Nokia Phone, and Droid RAZR by Google/Motorola offer the latest evidence that, over the past few years, the U.S. has regained global leadership in key areas of communications technology," Genachowski said in a statement. "These high-performance devices, and the demands they place on our broadband networks, underscore a critical challenge."
"Today, I announce the FCC will initiate formal steps by the end of the year to implement key recommendations of the President´s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report around freeing up spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band. This action will represent a major innovation in spectrum policy that will in turn enable innovations in wireless applications throughout the economy, including energy, healthcare, education, and other uses yet to be discovered," the FCC Chairman added.
The PCAST recommended earmarking 1,000MHz worth of spectrum in the 2,700MHz and 3,700MHz range, and having cellular carriers share it with federal agencies, Brodkin reported on Friday.
"This isn´t what cellular carriers like Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint would consider beachfront spectrum (LTE frequency bands are anywhere between 700MHz and 2,600MHz)," the Ars Technica reporter said. "With the use of higher frequencies that don´t travel as far, cell providers will have to build lots of 'small cells' instead of traditional towers. Because spectrum will be shared instead of exclusively licensed, a potentially complicated system to determine who gets to use spectrum when and where will have to be implemented."
Despite Genachowski's announcement, the government's progress towards identifying federal spectrum that could be shared with or transferred to carriers or other commercial entities is being called into question by both the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee's communications subcommittee and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Grant Gross of IDG News reported on Thursday.
In a report released Thursday, despite a 2003 edict to identify both federal and private-sector spectrum needs from then-President George W. Bush, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)'s efforts towards that goal have been "limited."
"GAO found it did not identify governmentwide spectrum needs and did not contain key elements and conform to best practices for strategic planning," the organization reported. "Furthermore, NTIA´s primary spectrum management operations do not focus on governmentwide needs. Instead, NTIA depends on agency self-evaluation of spectrum needs and focuses on mitigating interference among spectrum users, with limited emphasis on overall spectrum management."
"Additionally, NTIA´s data management system is antiquated and lacks internal controls to ensure the accuracy of agency-reported data, making it unclear if reliable data inform decisions about federal spectrum use. NTIA is developing a new data management system, but implementation is years away," they added. "Despite these limitations, NTIA has taken steps to identify spectrum that could potentially be made available for broadband use."
To illustrate that last point, the GAO said that, back in 2010, the NTIA identified 115 megahertz of spectrum that they believed could be repurposed by 2015. However, the oversight group also reported that there were "several barriers" limiting sharing between the government and the private sector.
Among those barriers were: the amount of money paid to the NTIA by federal groups for use of the spectrum, giving them "little incentive to conserve or share it." The GAO recommend evaluating spectrum use fees to promote more effective use and sharing of spectrum, making unlicensed spectrum more widely available, and increasing research and development investment in this department.
"We need more rigorous analysis before giving up on clearing spectrum and working to maximize efficiency on how the government uses that spectrum," Representative Greg Walden, a Republican from Oregon, told Gross. "Working together, we must increase efficiency, upgrade government systems and make spectrum available to meet our country's wireless broadband demand."
As reported earlier this month, the FCC could be planning to reconsider their policies regarding the transfer of wireless spectrum from one service provider to another. Sources have said that a vote on the proposal would be coming sometime this month, possibly at a September 28 FCC meeting. It is not currently known whether or not those changes would make it easier or harder for companies such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless to purchase spectrum.