Pentagon To Open Up Wireless Spectrum For Private Sector Use
July 24, 2013

Pentagon Offers To Share Spectrum With Wireless Industry

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The Department of Defense (DoD) said on Tuesday it could transition its operations out of the 1755-1780 MHz frequency band to make the spectrum available for private sector use, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday, the Pentagon said it could relinquish the spectrum "while ensuring no loss of critical DoD capabilities."

The DoD has long held wireless spectrum for use in military operations such as pilot training, drone systems and other programs. The Pentagon's move to relocate from the 1755-1780 MHz band follows growing pressure from the wireless industry and the Obama administration to ease federal control of valuable spectrum.

The DoD said the military could rearrange its systems within that spectrum, as well as the 2025-2110 MHz band, and compress its programs into part of the 1780-1850 MHz band it would retain.

The DoD has faced criticism from the wireless industry and members of Congress for resisting efforts to open the airwaves for commercial use to help meet growing spectrum demands brought about by a new generation of mobile services and devices.

The Pentagon had cited its own growing need for spectrum to support the use of drones and other technologies that rely on wireless capability, and has estimated the process of transitioning its programs to new frequencies would cost more than $12 billion.

But under the new plan, the DoD's cost estimate fell to just $3.5 billion because it would share some sections of airwaves without entirely exiting any of the spectrum bands.

In its letter, originally sent July 17 to the NTIA, DoD Chief Information Officer Teresa Takai said the new proposal represents "a workable balance to provide access to the 1755-1780 MHz band most desired by the commercial wireless industry while ensuring no loss of critical DoD capabilities."

The NTIA, which oversees federal airwaves, sent its own letter to the FCC in response to the Pentagon's proposal, saying it had not yet had enough time to review the plan and could not yet support it.

The FCC, with help from the NTIA, is planning to hold several auctions of airwaves in coming years, including one that would sell off sections of federally controlled spectrum. The auctions will mark the first transitioning of airwave ownership since 2008.

Congress has required the FCC to auction off the 2155-2180 MHz band by February 2015, and the wireless industry has been working to pair that spectrum with the valuable 1755-1780 MHz band so it can be used for LTE networks.

Members of the House of Representatives have already introduced a bill to ensure this coupling takes place.

Last month, President Obama directed federal agencies to look for new ways to relinquish or share more of their airwaves with the private sector. In June 2010, he called for opening up 500 MHz of federal spectrum for commercial use.

Although the DoD's move marks the first major concession by the Pentagon for upcoming auctions, the proposal leaves a number of questions unanswered, including how long the military's programs would remain in the current bands, and how the plan might affect future attempts to clear spectrum now used by the government. Furthermore, before any plan could go into effect, the Secretary of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Commerce Secretary all must certify to Congress that moving the DoD operations won't impair military operations.

The DoD also said it would need to relocate into spectrum currently held by television broadcasters, something the industry has reservations about, The Journal said.

DoD spokesman Damien Pickart said stakeholders would need to collaborate to develop the best solution to address these and other concerns.

"We remain committed to work cooperatively on a balanced approach that protects mission-critical military operations while making spectrum available for broadband use to keep our economy in a leadership position," he said.

The FCC launched a proceeding late Tuesday to solicit public comments on a number of proposals related to how the agency should auction the federally owned airwaves to wireless companies.

"We are committed to finding new and innovative strategies to expedite commercial access to additional spectrum," said FCC Acting Chair Mignon Clyburn in a statement.

"I encourage all stakeholders to roll up their sleeves and help us to push this proceeding forward."