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Department of Commerce Takes Next Step in Unleashing Wireless Broadband Revolution

March 27, 2012
News Media Contact
Moira Vahey

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Commerce, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), today announced its finding that 95 megahertz (MHz) of prime spectrum could be repurposed for wireless broadband use. Reallocation of this spectrum would represent significant progress towards achieving President Obama’s goal to nearly double the amount of commercial spectrum available this decade. The President’s initiative will spur investment, economic growth, and job creation while supporting the growing demand by consumers and businesses for wireless broadband services.

“Today’s report sets a path for putting prime spectrum into commercial wireless broadband use, in support of the Obama Administration’s goal to encourage investment and innovation while enhancing America’s economic competitiveness,” said Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling.

NTIA, working with federal agencies, evaluated the potential of the 1755–1850 MHz band to accommodate commercial wireless broadband service. This spectrum band is of great interest to the wireless industry. However, over 20 federal agencies currently hold more than 3,100 individual frequency assignments in this band to perform a host of mission-critical functions, including law enforcement surveillance, military tactical communications, air combat training, and precision-guided munitions.

While NTIA’s analysis shows it is possible to repurpose all 95 MHz of spectrum for commercial wireless broadband, there are several challenges that need to be met before making a formal recommendation to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In the past, the federal government has freed up spectrum for exclusive commercial use by clearing a spectrum band of federal users, who typically relocated to other bands. However, given the growing demand for spectrum by both industry and the federal agencies, it is increasingly difficult to find desirable spectrum that can be vacated by federal users as well as spectrum in which to relocate these federal users. Due to the scarcity of spectrum, the complexity of federal operations, and the time and cost of relocating federal users, the old approach alone is no longer feasible.

In addition, NTIA’s analysis of the cost of a complete relocation raises questions as to whether the proceeds from auctioning the 1755-1850 MHz band for commercial use will exceed federal relocation costs, as required by law. Moreover, some of the federal systems in this band may require more than a decade to relocate, which could further complicate deployment of commercial services.

Accordingly, in the report issued today, NTIA proposes a new path forward for spectrum repurposing that relies on a combination of relocating federal users and sharing spectrum between federal agencies and commercial users. Spectrum sharing will be a vital component to satisfying the growing demand for spectrum, and federal and non-federal users will need to adopt innovative spectrum-sharing techniques to accommodate this demand. NTIA proposes convening discussions between industry and the relevant federal agencies under the auspices of the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee, with the goal of finding ways to work together through sharing or other means to reduce the time and expense of repurposing the 1755-1850 MHz band, while maintaining essential Federal capabilities and maximizing commercial utilization.

“Spectrum is a finite resource in growing demand, and we need to focus on new ways to maximize its use,” said Strickling. “By working with the FCC, other federal agencies, and the industry, we can make more spectrum available to fuel innovation and preserve America’s technological leadership while protecting vital government missions.”

Today’s report is in response to a June 2010 Presidential Memorandum that directed the Secretary of Commerce, working through NTIA, to collaborate with the FCC to make available an additional 500 MHz of spectrum over the next 10 years for commercial wireless broadband service. In November 2010, NTIA released a 10-year plan and timetable for meeting the President’s goal. NTIA identified 2,200 MHz of spectrum for evaluation, the process for evaluating these candidate bands, and the steps necessary to make the selected spectrum available for wireless broadband. In addition, NTIA identified some nearer-term spectrum reallocation opportunities, recommending a total of 115 MHz of spectrum that could be made available for wireless broadband use within five years.

Repurposing the 95 MHz of spectrum at 1755-1850 MHz, combined with NTIA’s prior recommendation to reallocate 115 MHz of spectrum, would bring federal agencies’ contribution to 40 percent of the President’s goal.  NTIA is committed to finding ways to maximize the economic potential of this spectrum in a cost-effective manner, while maintaining essential Federal missions.   


An Assessment of the Viability of Accommodating Wireless Broadband in the 1755-1850 MHz Band


Presidential Memorandum: Unleashing the Wireless Broadband Revolution (June 28, 2010)

White House Fact Sheet: Doubling the Amount of Commercial Spectrum to Unleash the Innovative Potential of Wireless Broadband (June 28, 2010)