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Wireless Communications and Radio Spectrum Policy

As the President's principal adviser on telecommunications policy issues, NTIA's proposes and analyzes Administration policy on a wide variety of issues regarding wireless communications and radio spectrum matters. NTIA's Office of Spectrum Management is responsible for the management of spectrum used by Federal Government agencies and related spectrum policy. The Office of Policy Analysis and Development may address the regulatory, economic, and commercial aspects of non-federal as well as federal spectrum use, regarding such matters as commercial mobile (cellular) telecommunications, broadcast spectrum, private radio, or Wi-Fi and other license exempt spectrum uses.

Introduction to the Radio Frequency Spectrum

The term "radio frequency spectrum" (or simply, "spectrum") describes a range of frequencies of electromagnetic waves used for communication and other purposes, such as radar. The radio spectrum is a part of everyone's daily lives, whether they think about it or not. It provides a basis for a wide and diverse range of services and industries, including broadcasting, cellular telephones, wireless Internet connections, paging, radar, navigation, air traffic control, microwave services, satellites, and even garage door openers. Spectrum is crucial to the work of police and fire departments, it is essential to air and ground transportation systems, and, as important as any of these, it is used by the military for everything from two-way radios to precision guided weapons to radars.

Spectrum management involves "allocation" and "assignment" of spectrum. An allocation describes use (e.g., broadcasting, fixed, mobile, etc.); allocations are made internationally and domestically. An assignment authorizes a person to use a discrete radio frequency channel under specified conditions.

Under the Communications Act of 1934, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) licenses spectrum use within the United States by all parties except Federal Government agencies. NTIA, through its Office of Spectrum Management, assigns frequencies to Federal Government spectrum users under authority delegated from the President, through the Secretary of Commerce. Federal agencies are represented to NTIA through the Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee (IRAC), which advises NTIA. In addition, by statute, NTIA acts as the President's principal adviser on telecommunications policies generally, and must develop, in cooperation with the FCC, a long-range plan for management of the spectrum.

The United States Department of Commerce, of which NTIA is a part, has a long history of involvement in radio regulation. Under the Radio Act of 1912, the Department of Commerce issued licenses for commercial radio use. The Radio Act of 1927 established the independent Radio Federal Commission and the basic structure of radio regulation that was carried into the Communications Act of 1934 and the Federal Communications Commission.

For Further Information

For more information contact:

Joe Gattuso, jgattuso@ntia.doc.gov

National Telecommunications and Information Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce
14th St. & Constitution Ave., NW, Room 4725
Washington, D.C. 20230
Voice: (202) 482-1880 · Fax: (202) 482-6173

Digital TV Transition & Public Safety

Networked Nation 2007

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National Telecommunications and Information Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave., NW Washington, DC 20230