Spectrum Policy Reform
By Joseph P. Camacho

The management of the spectrum is divided between two separate, independent agencies in the United States. The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Admin-istration (NTIA) is responsible for managing the spectrum used by the agencies of the Federal government, while the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is responsible for managing the spectrum used by State and Local government agencies, business industry and consumers.

The NTIA and the FCC have embarked on a major spectrum policy and management reformation. The forces making reform necessary are four fold:

  1. increasing spectrum demands from the private sector as more and more wireless mobility is becoming a business, social and political necessity;
  2. continued and increasing requirements for spectrum for important services provided by all levels of government in the United States, such as public safety, national defense and aircraft and maritime radionavigation; and
  3. the physical characteristics of the spectrum that make certain frequency bands much more desirable than others for some applications. Seldom has such highlevel attention been given to spectrum management.

NTIA Spectrum Summit

Recognizing the need for spectrum management reform, NTIA Administrator and Assistant Secretary of Commerce Nancy J. Victory convened a Spectrum Summit as an important first step in spectrum management reform. NTIA held the two-day spectrum summit in Washington, DC in April 2002 . It focused on ways to encourage spectrum efficiency; provide spectrum for new technologies; and improve the effectiveness of the domestic and international spectrum management processes. Senior officials from government, the private sector and academia participated.

When initiating the first-ever Spectrum Summit, Assistant Secretary Victory said, "we are going to continue to be a leader in technology, and if our citizens are going to be able to enjoy all the benefits such technological advancement can bring, we need to find spectrum to deploy all these wonderful new wireless products and services. And just so there is no misunderstanding - we need to find spectrum for commercial and governmental uses because Americans benefit greatly from them both."

A wide variety of participants provided many observations and great ideas that resulted in identifying a number of areas for further investigations and analyses. "This will not be a short-term project, but one we must accept as a challenge thoroughly and thoughtfully. We intend to turn what we learn into action items to affect the changes needed to better manage this essential resource," said Assistant Secretary Victory.

The four important themes that came out of the summit were:

  1. One spectrum team. The U.S. government agencies responsible for spectrum management, namely the NTIA, the FCC, and the Department of State (DOS)- must work together to serve the nation's interests as "one spectrum team."
  2. Forward-looking spectrum policies. There is the need to modernize our spectrum policies so that they are forward-looking. A concerted effort needs to be made to eliminate unnecessary government micromanagement of spectrum uses. This means taking a fresh look at legacy policies, rules and restrictions to assess their ability to accommodate emerging technologies or spectrum needs.
  3. Spectrum efficiency. The United States must pursue policies that encourage spectrum efficiency and discourage spectrum waste.
  4. Flexible spectrum policies. The United States must develop spectrum policies that ensure the deployment of robust wireless networks that are prepared for the worst of crises and that are able to deliver the best of services to the government, defense and public safety communities as well as to the American people. The wireless networks of today and tomorrow must be robust and capable of functioning well, especially under the stress and strain of an emergency situation.

Future Spectrum Initiatives

While the U.S. telecommunications industry has made some great strides over the last year, there is still much work to be done. The NTIA intends to focus on a number of major spectrum issues designed to improve overall spectrum management.

Among other things, NTIA plans to address and enhance spectrum efficiency among government users. The first part of this initiative is to review just how government agencies are using their spectrum today. In this regard, NTIA will be conducting a study of the current and future use of the federal land mobile spectrum in the Washington/Baltimore area. Based on this use, the NTIA will identify the technical improvements or changes via technology, spectrum management practices, and/or standards to increase effectiveness of spectrum use and spectral efficiency. If this approach works, NTIA's efforts would be expanded to the remainder of the land mobile radio services and other radio services as well.

The NTIA also will be examining whether certain market-based spectrum policies successful on the private sector side can be applied to the federal government to encourage efficient spectrum use. For example, could secondary leasing options be made available to government licensees to permit them to lease out a portion of their spectrum in non-emergency situations and recover it in the event an emergency?

The NTIA also hopes to address spectrum rights relative to interference protection. Right now there is no standard formula or methodology for determining levels of acceptable interference. That's one of the reasons why negotiating new sharing situations takes so long and is so contentious. This year, the NTIA plans to begin identifying the interference protection criteria for various radio services. If this effort is successful, the NTIA will consider adopting the derived interference protection criteria standards into its rules and regulations. In that case, the NTIA also may encourage the FCC to adopt these new standards where applicable.

Receiver standards is another area that the NTIA hopes to investigate. To the extent that a receiver is more robust, it has the potential to reduce interference and increase sharing. The NTIA also will be considering inclusion of these standards in NTIA's rules and regulations if doing so will mitigate interference, be practical and be cost effective.

The Bush Administration has and will continue to advance policies that promote efficiency of spectrum use. The NTIA's recent achievements in new technology areas demonstrate what can be done when those competing for spectrum are given the opportunity to work together to develop innovative solutions to complex spectrum management issues and responsibilities. This type of honest coordination, coupled with the spectrum management initiatives proposed by NTIA, will go a long way in helping to bring new and advanced wireless technologies to market.

FCC Reform: The Spectrum Policy Task Force

In June 2002, FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell established the Spectrum Policy Task Force to assist the Commission in identifying and evaluating changes in spectrum policy that will increase the public benefits derived from the use of radio spectrum. The creation of the task force initiated the first-ever comprehensive and systematic review of 90 years of spectrum policy at the FCC. The November 2002 Spectrum Policy Task Force Report culminated FCC efforts in its Public Notice, information meetings and four public workshops. The report's findings and recommendations for improving the way that the electromagnetic radio spectrum is managed is expected to serve as a catalyst for further advancement of spectrum policy at the FCC. (See http://www.fcc.gov/sptf/.)

FCC and NTIA Memorandum of Understanding

FCC Chairman Powell and Assistant Secretary of Commerce Victory have both emphasized the need for enhanced cooperation and coordination of spectrum issues throughout the government to promote efficient use of the radio spectrum in the public interest. On January 31, 2003, the FCC and the Commerce Department's NTIA executed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on spectrum coordination. The MOU, signed by FCC Chairman Powell and Assistant Secretary of Commerce Victory, will apply to coordination of spectrum issues involving both federal and non-federal users. (See http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DOC-230835A2.pdf)

The FCC and NTIA had been operating under an MOU dating back to October 1940. The new agreement establishes procedures relating to frequency coordination, as well as spectrum planning provisions contained in the Communications Act. This MOU establishes a framework for compliance with the statutory requirements and stipulates that the Chairman of the FCC and Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information shall meet biannually to conduct joint spectrum planning. The MOU further stipulates that the FCC and NTIA spectrum staffs shall meet regularly on spectrum planning issues. The MOU also is consistent with a recent Congressional General Accounting Office report that focused on the need for greater cooperation between the two spectrum policy organizations.

Upon signing, Chairman Powell stated, "This marks a historical step forward in spectrum policy reform. Much has changed in the sixty plus years since the original MOU was adopted. As the task force recently found, spectrum policy is simply too important to be locked in such a policy time warp. The Commission and NTIA will now be more responsive, cooperative and effective. Ultimately, this partnership will mean more efficient regulatory processes that will speed the deployment of new innovative spectrum-based services to consumers. I look forward to working with Assistant Secretary Victory and her team on additional ways to improve spectrum management." Chairman Powell has identified spectrum policy reform as one of the key strategic goals of his job.

"To deal effectively with critical spectrum management issues, it is essential that the U.S. government works together as 'One Spectrum Team'," said Assistant Secretary Victory. "Chairman Powell and I and our staffs have worked hard to achieve a close and productive working relationship that operates effectively and delivers results. The MOU we signed today memorializes that relationship to ensure that this heightened level of cooperation between our agencies will continue for years to come. Through better coordination, we can manage the spectrum more effectively, facilitating the introduction of new technologies, the satisfaction of critical user needs and, ultimately, the enhancement of our nation's economic and homeland security." (See http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/press/2003/MOUJan31.htm)

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