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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling on Release of Spectrum Report

July 20, 2012

Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
at the Release of the Report
“Realizing the Full Potential of Government-Held Spectrum to Spur Economic Growth”
by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology
The White House

July 20, 2012

As prepared for delivery

I want to thank the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) for producing this report, and I want to especially thank Mark Gorenberg for providing the intellectual direction and energy for this project.  I also thank other members of the panel for their ideas and time to participate in this study.  We are very fortunate that PCAST assembled such a strong panel of experts to provide new thinking on an issue of critical importance to the growth of the innovation economy in America.

I am particularly pleased that this panel of experts has validated what we at NTIA have been saying for the past year:  We need to find a new way of making spectrum available for commercial broadband, and that new way has to embrace the sharing of spectrum between federal agencies and industry.

As the PCAST report concludes, the old method of clearing spectrum of federal users and then making it available for the exclusive use of commercial providers is not sustainable.  We have moved the easy systems.  To continue the old method of spectrum reallocation costs too much money and takes too long.  The industry and their customers, as well as our economy, cannot afford the cost and delay.  Moreover, over the years, the critical missions performed by federal agencies have required systems of greater and greater complexity and have increased the agencies’ needs for spectrum.  The opportunities to find spectrum to which to relocate federal operations are dwindling rapidly.

Nowhere is the confluence of all these factors better illustrated than in the 95 megahertz of spectrum located between 1755 and 1850 MHz.  Today, more than 20 agencies have over 3000 frequency assignments in this band, with uses ranging from point-to-point microwave to covert law enforcement surveillance to air combat training systems, where radio transmitters are literally embedded in the skin of the aircraft.  We released a study earlier this spring describing all of these uses and projected that it would take at least ten years and $18 billion to clear this band of these federal uses and relocate them to other frequencies.  Granted these were preliminary numbers, but even if you discount them, it would still cost too much and take too long to relocate all of these systems.

The solution, as PCAST recommends, is for federal agencies and commercial users to share the spectrum.  While this approach presents some new technology challenges, we are already moving forward to implement this approach where we can in the 1755-1850 band.  Through our Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC), we have organized five working groups made up of representatives from industry and federal agencies – an example of the public/private cooperation this Administration has favored – to evaluate all the different uses in this band and determine the fastest, most cost-effective way forward to allow for commercial use of this 95 megahertz of spectrum.

In some cases, traditional relocation will likely be the recommendation.  Systems such as point-to-point microwave circuits are relatively straightforward to move, and we have spectrum where these systems can be relocated.  In other cases, such as satellite earth stations, defining geographic exclusion zones to protect the earth stations may then allow commercial entry in large parts of the country not affected by such zones.  But in addition, we are now adding a third option to the discussions – the possibility that industry and the federal agencies can both use spectrum in the same geographic area through the use of today’s new technologies that will then allow the more efficient use of this spectrum.  The CSMAC working groups are now up and running, and we hope to receive their recommendations at the beginning of next year.

Two years ago, President Obama directed NTIA to work with the FCC to find 500 megahertz of spectrum over the next five years to make available for commercial broadband services within ten years.  Including the 1755-1850 MHz band, NTIA has already identified 210 megahertz of spectrum for reallocation and the FCC, now having been given the authority to do incentive auctions, will be moving forward with broadcasters to make additional commercial spectrum available for broadband.

But given the speed at which the demand for spectrum is growing, there will be a continuing national need to find spectrum for broadband services, even after we reallocate the 500 megahertz as directed by the President.  If we can realize the vision reflected in the recommendations of the PCAST report, we can find a way to support the wireless explosion – and the growth, innovation and jobs that it is delivering – for the foreseeable future.  The Administration and the nation owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the members of the President’s Council for their work as presented in the report.  I thank each and every member of the Council for their contribution.  Thank you.