The FCC signaled its intention to auction two bands of spectrum--1695-1710 MHz and 1755-1780 MHz--as early as September 2014.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski made the revelation in a letter to Larry Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The commission is required by statute to notify NTIA at least 18 months in advance of any planned spectrum auction. In turn, NTIA is required to notify the FCC of estimated relocation and sharing costs, as well as timelines for such relocation or sharing at least six months prior to the commencement of the auction.
NTIA previously proposed to reallocate the 1695-1710 MHz band from federal to commercial use. The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 requires the FCC allocate this identified spectrum for commercial use and license the spectrum by February 2015.
Genachowski's letter said nothing about pairing the 1695-1710 MHz spectrum with another band. Trade group CTIA is advocating reallocation of the upper edge of the Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) spectrum located at 2095-2110 MHz for pairing with the 1695-1710 MHz spectrum.
"As we stated in a filing with the FCC just last week, we look forward to the FCC beginning its investigation into pairing 2095-2110 MHz with the 1695 MHz spectrum," said CTIA.
However, the National Association of Broadcasters contends that reallocating BAS spectrum, which is currently used for electronic newsgathering, would harm public safety.
The Tax Relief Act also directs the FCC to allocate and license the 2155-2180 MHz band--known as the AWS-3 band--plus other bands, by February 2015. Genachowski said the FCC recognizes a push by the commercial wireless industry to have that spectrum paired with the 1755-1780 MHz federal band, which NTIA's Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC) is studying for shared use between federal and commercial users.
"Accordingly, we include the 1755-1780 MHz band in this notice to preserve the possibility of auctioning it with the 2155-2180 MHz band," said Genachowski.
The FCC previously auctioned off 1710-1755 MHz paired with 2110-2155 MHz but held back 1755-1780 MHz and 2155-2180 MHz. The 2155-2180 MHz band is already cleared, but the 1755-1780 MHz spectrum is encumbered by the Department of Defense and other government users.
On Aug. 14, 2012, the FCC granted T-Mobile's request for special temporary authority (STA) to test the suitability of mobile broadband services in the 1755-1780 MHz band, with the intention of opening up the frequencies for pairing with the existing AWS-3 band for eventual auction and commercial use through spectrum sharing long before all government entities are cleared from the spectrum. AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) are also involved in the testing effort.
Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai commended Genachowski for notifying NTIA of the auction plans, but he also dismissed the idea of spectrum sharing for the 1755-1780 MHz band. "I continue to believe that we should aim to clear and reallocate the 1755-1780 MHz band rather than forcing federal users and commercial operators to undertake the complicated, untested task of spectrum sharing," said Pai.
Similarly U.S. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, urged NTIA and the Obama administration "to concentrate their efforts on reallocating the 1755-1780 MHz band for as much exclusive, non-federal use as is feasible."
Thune added that cleared spectrum "is the best way to meet consumer demand and raise revenues needed to relocate current users and reduce the deficit."
Auction proceeds from this paired spectrum were predicted by the Brattle Group in 2011 to bring in $12 billion in gross revenue for the U.S. Treasury, though the firm said $4 billion would need to be dedicated to the cost of clearing the lower band of spectrum.
CTIA, NAB battle over freeing BAS band for mobile broadband
CTIA's grab at BAS frequencies raises public-safety questions
T-Mobile CTO: 1755-1780 MHz is prime spectrum for LTE
AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile forge pact to explore spectrum sharing with government
Rysavy: Spectrum sharing with LTE is conceivable but not trivial
T-Mobile: We'll prove shared 1755-1780 MHz band can be auctioned
FCC allows T-Mobile to test spectrum sharing in 1755-1780 MHz band