Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • AWS-3 Auction Highlights New Approach to Spectrum Policy

    The most successful auction of radio spectrum so far came to a close today, drawing nearly $45 billion in bids for 65 megahertz of spectrum. While clearly a ringing financial success, the AWS-3 auction also is an important milestone in the Obama administration’s efforts to meet the President’s goal of making available 500 megahertz of spectrum for wireless broadband by 2020.

    The auction proceeds will help fund the nation’s first nationwide public safety broadband network being established by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), as well as pay for deficit reduction, relocation costs federal agencies will incur to vacate or share bands for commercial use and other priorities.

    The success of the auction, conducted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), was made possible in part by an unprecedented level of collaboration between NTIA, affected federal agencies, wireless industry representatives, the FCC, and Congress.

    The auction also represents a paradigm shift in our approach to making spectrum available for commercial wireless providers. In many instances, the bands that were auctioned will require the clearing of incumbent federal users from these bands; while in other instances, nonfederal entrants will be required to share spectrum with incumbent federal agencies indefinitely. As NTIA continues to review spectrum bands for reallocation, spectrum sharing is becoming the new reality. Out of necessity, where it is cost prohibitive, takes too long to relocate incumbent users, or where comparable spectrum is not available to ensure continuity of critical federal government functions, we must move beyond the traditional approach of clearing federal users from spectrum in order to auction it to the private sector for its exclusive use.

    NTIA manages the federal government’s use of spectrum. The agency works to make efficient use of this vital resource while ensuring agencies have the airwaves they need to perform critical functions for the American people. This includes a broad range of activities from predicting the weather at the National Weather Service to the Federal Aviation Administration’s work in safeguarding air travel.

    As part of the administration’s efforts to make more spectrum available for wireless broadband, NTIA has been working to identify federal bands that could be repurposed for commercial use. In a March 2012 report, NTIA concluded that while it was possible to clear all federal users from the 1755-1780 MHz band as a step in making this spectrum available for commercial use, it would take far too much time and money to relocate all the federal systems operating in the band and, instead, proposed sharing as an option. This view was echoed by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in a groundbreaking report released later that year, which made recommendations on how to realize the full potential of government-held spectrum by facilitating spectrum sharing.

    NTIA was assisted in its work on the AWS-3 bands by the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC), a diverse group of private sector spectrum experts who advise NTIA. CSMAC, in collaboration with the federal agencies, did groundbreaking work to explore viable spectrum sharing arrangements between federal agencies and private industry in both the 1695-1710 MHz and 1755-1850 MHz bands, which are two of the three bands that were part of the AWS-3 auction.

    NTIA also worked with federal agencies to develop transition plans that include detailed actions they will take to either share or relocate from the affected frequencies in the AWS-3 bands.  Information from these transition plans, along with more granular information on how Department of Defense systems may impact certain bands and locations over time, provided an unprecedented level of detail to better inform potential bidders. 

    NTIA will work with the federal agencies and industry to meet the timelines outlined in the transition plans. And while the entire transition will take up to 10 years to complete, NTIA and the agencies will look for opportunities to allow for early entry of licensees where possible.

    The AWS-3 auction represents an important pivot point as we embrace spectrum sharing as part of a new approach to increased spectrum access.  With a sustained level of cooperation between federal agencies and industry, this approach will produce benefits for both.

    Lawrence E. Strickling is Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and Administratior of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

    Alexander Macgillivray is U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

  • A DIY Space Race: Unleashing Space Innovators through Prize Competitions

    Earlier this month, more than 150 designers, engineers, technologists and explorers gathered at the NASA Ames Research Center in Palo Alto, California, for the Cube Quest Challenge Summit. The Summit kicked off a multi-faceted quest to compete for the opportunity to launch a small satellite – known as a CubeSat – into space and then continue in a race around the moon and beyond. Teams that best complete the tasks outlined in the prize rules could win up to $5 million. As one attendee at the event shared via social media, “#CubeQuest has that feel of early days of history in the making. Sitting among giants in the cubesat field!”

    Attendees at the 2015 Cube Quest Challenge summit listen as Centennial Challenges Program Manager Sam Ortego kicks off the event, held at NASA Ames Research Center in Palo Alto, California. (Image: NASA/Ames/Dominic Hart)

    NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge is a great example of an ambitious prize that strives to drive national breakthroughs in science and technology. Since the authorization of its Centennial Challenges Program in 2005, NASA has been a leader in Federal technology development and demonstration prizes. The Centennial Challenges Program is part of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate, which solicits the help of the best and brightest minds in academia, industry, and government to drive innovation and enable solutions in important technology areas. The Cube Quest Challenge takes NASA’s challenges to a new level — literally out of this world — by including a chance for competitors to fly their very own CubeSat to the moon and beyond as secondary payload on the first integrated flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. This will be the first prize competition sponsored by the US Government where any portion has been conducted in space.

    The challenge and prize purse are divided into three major areas:

    • Ground Tournaments:  $500,000 in the four qualifying ground tournaments to determine who will have the ability to fly on the first SLS flight;

    • Lunar Derby: $3 million for demonstrating the ability to place a CubeSat in a stable lunar orbit and demonstrate communication and durability near the moon; and

    • Deep Space Derby:  $1.5 million for demonstrating communication and CubeSat durability at a distance greater than almost 2.5 million miles (4,000,000 km), 10 times the distance from the Earth to the moon

    The Obama Administration has taken steps to make prizes a standard part of every Agency’s toolbox, and to encourage Federal agencies to use prizes to drive national breakthroughs. In his September 2009 Strategy for American Innovation, President Obama called on all Federal agencies to increase their use of prizes to address some of our Nation’s most pressing challenges. Such efforts grew with the signing of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, which provided Federal agencies with expanded authority to pursue ambitious prizes with robust incentives. In fiscal year (FY) 2013, 25 Federal agencies conducted 87 prize competitions: a more than 85 percent increase from FY 2012.

  • Unleashing Data and Tools to Boost Climate Resilience in India

    Last September, at the UN Climate Summit in New York City, President Obama committed to work with partner nations to empower local authorities to better plan for the impacts of severe environmental changes such as drought, glacial retreat, flooding, landslides, coastal storm surges, agricultural stresses, and public-health-relevant challenges. As part of this commitment, he announced an interagency effort to, within one year, release higher-resolution elevation data for regions around the world – beginning with Africa. Datasets for the Caribbean, Mexico, and other regions have subsequently been made freely and publicly available.

    Today, the Administration announced the release of the next tranche of higher-resolution elevation data for India. Until now, these elevation data for India were freely and publicly available only at 90-meter resolution. The datasets being announced today resolve to 30-meters and can be used to better assess and monitor the impacts of sea-level rise, conduct environmental monitoring activities, and support local resilience-relevant decision-making. These datasets are being made available on the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earth Explorer website.

  • Microbes, Apps, and Backflips-in-Space at 3rd Annual White House “State of STEM” Event for Kids

    Yesterday, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith, kicked off an afternoon of conversation between senior Obama-Administration scientists and technologists, outside innovators, and one of the toughest, most inquisitive audiences that could be conjured: DC-area elementary, middle, and high-school students.


    United States Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Megan Smith answers questions from kid reporters prior to the annual White House State of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (SoSTEM) address, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

    CTO Smith launched the event by recapping the multitude of science and technology references in the prior evening’s State of the Union Address—including STEM education, climate change, tech-skills, and space exploration, to name a few. She then shared a personal account of the beauty of being a techie in public service, and the importance of bringing all of America’s talent to the table when it comes to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers – especially including women and minorities.

    Next, NASA Administrator (and former astronaut… and former Marine) Charlie Bolden took the stage, revving the kids up for a special surprise: a live video Q&A with astronauts currently in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Students eagerly lined up to ask about life in zero-gravity, how the astronauts got their awesome jobs, and even what the weather’s like up in space. (Captain Barry "Butch" Wilmore half-joked that the weather is “consistently clear” aboard the ISS, just one of the many perks of his job.) Wilmore was joined by Colonel Terry Virts, and Captain Samantha Cristoforett, who answered students’ questions one-by-one, all while sporadically flipping upside down in their gravity-free environment.

  • Precision Medicine: Improving Health and Treating Disease

    Last night, at his 2015 State of the Union Address, President Obama announced that he is launching a new precision medicine initiative that will help deliver the right treatment to the right patient at the right time.

    Many of you may be wondering: What exactly is “precision medicine,” and how can it transform medicine as it is practiced today?

    Today, most medical treatments have been designed for the “average patient.” In too many cases, this “one-size-fits-all” approach isn’t effective, as treatments can be very successful for some patients but not for others. Precision medicine is an emerging approach to promoting health and treating disease that takes into account individual differences in people’s genes, environments, and lifestyles, making it possible to design highly effective, targeted treatments for cancer and other diseases. In short, precision medicine gives clinicians new tools, knowledge, and therapies to select which treatments will work best for which patients.

  • Promoting Science-Based Stewardship, Security, and Opportunity in the Arctic Region

    Today, President Obama issued an Executive Order to help coordinate Arctic-related activities across the Federal Government and enhance collaboration with State, local, and Alaska Native tribal governments and similar Alaska Native organizations, academic and research institutions, and the private and nonprofit sectors.

    The Arctic region provides critical ecological, cultural, and economic services to our Nation. Arctic-based activities that advance the national interest range from defense and security, to maritime safety; to environmental stewardship; the promotion of science and research, and more.

    But we know based on decades of rigorous scientific research that climate change is causing the Alaskan Arctic to warm twice as rapidly as the rest of the United States – and that climate change will continue to transform the Arctic in the future as its consequences grow more severe. Dramatic seasonal reduction in Arctic sea ice, widespread glacier retreat, acidifying oceans, earlier spring snowmelt, and thawing permafrost are changing the ways people can access, live, and work in this remote region. 

    At the same time, there are significant changes in the social, economic, and political landscapes across the Arctic. Many Northern communities are keen to protect and sustain their unique cultures and relationship with the land and ocean, but they also recognize the need to embrace economic opportunities to support improvements in their wellbeing. We are interested in working with these communities to explore new opportunities for economic development while protecting the region that is their home and the core of their cultural heritage.

    The United States has a responsibility to strengthen international cooperation in the Arctic, mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change, better understand and manage the impacts of climate change in this region, develop and manage resources responsibly, and serve as stewards for valuable and vulnerable ecosystems.