Continuing to Build Smart Policies for Spectrum Sharing

Finding ways to use wireless spectrum more efficiently is a critical part of President Obama’s ambitious strategy for expanding the availability of spectrum for innovative and flexible commercial uses, including for broadband services, to drive innovation, expand consumer services, and create jobs.  
 
This past summer, President Obama issued a memorandum directing Federal agencies to take a number of steps to more aggressively enhance spectrum efficiency and accelerate shared access to spectrum for consumer services and applications, including by advancing collaboration and information sharing with the private sector and other stakeholders, developing the necessary technology innovations to support spectrum sharing, and providing agencies with incentives  to relocate from or share spectrum in a timely and cost-effective manner.  
 
Balancing the growing needs of both commercial and Federal spectrum users presents opportunities for increased efficiency and economic growth, but also poses challenges. In particular, commercial wireless providers must learn how to operate their systems in spectrum bands that will be shared by Federal agencies using that same spectrum for operations such as conducting military training exercises, maintaining air safety, or tracking criminal activity.
 
That’s why it is absolutely essential to enhance collaboration and information sharing between Federal agencies and private-sector wireless technology companies.  And we already know that it can work. 
 
For example, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently approved a Defense Department proposal to share with non-Federal users, by auction, a 25-megahertz band of spectrum—known as the “1755 band.” This band has been long coveted by the wireless industry for its appealing propagation characteristics and because it can be paired with another swath of spectrum that the Federal Communications Commission is required to license via auction by early 2015. However, because the 1755 band will not be vacated entirely, mechanisms must be in place for the band to be shared so that it maximizes its commercial value while also protecting essential government functions. For this to happen, bidders must be able to access technical details about the spectrum they may bid on, without jeopardizing sensitive Federal operations. To address these challenges, industry-agency working groups collaborated intensively, ahead of time, to help identify details about what kinds of Federal systems already operate in the 1755 megahertz band,  which ones would be relocated and which would remain, and how commercial networks could successfully move into the band.  The success of the process so far is a testament to the Defense Department’s commitment not just to protecting our nation militarily, but also to strengthening it economically.
 
 
Tomorrow, NTIA will host a Lessons Learned Meeting, convening Federal agencies, industry experts, and other stakeholders to review the collaborative process that helped inspire the Defense Department proposal regarding the 1755 MHz band, in anticipation of additional collaboration and information sharing efforts that address the ever-increasing demand for wireless services.  
   
 We also know the importance of ensuring Federal agencies are able—and incentivized—to  share or relinquish spectrum in a cost-effective and timely manner, while protecting the mission capabilities of existing and future systems that rely on spectrum use.
 
Just this week, bi-partisan legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives and voted out of the Energy and Commerce Committee that proposes new incentive options for agencies to relinquish or share spectrum.  We are encouraged by lawmakers’ attention to this important issue and look forward to continuing to work with them to address challenges that industry stakeholders and federal agencies face in achieving more efficient use of spectrum.
 
We hope that tomorrow’s NTIA meeting will produce ideas for even greater collaboration that can be incorporated into ongoing work across the Federal agencies to get the job done. 
 
Tom Power is U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Telecommunications
 

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