CTIA's Baker calls for spectrum 'report card' to assess how government agencies use airwaves

WASHINGTON—CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker wants to create a spectrum "report card" that would assess how efficiently government agencies are using their spectrum. That's one piece of a broader agenda she has for getting more airwaves for mobile broadband use beyond this fall's coming auction of AWS-3 spectrum and next year's incentive auction of 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum.  

Baker, who became the head of the wireless industry's trade association and lobbying arm earlier this month, said a report card would "keep people's feet to the fire to make sure we're utilizing the spectrum, [and that] we're not warehousing it." She said that CTIA is going to continue to work towards the goal President Obama laid out in 2010 to free up 500 MHz of spectrum for mobile and fixed wireless broadband use by 2020. Baker said CTIA might push to go beyond that but wants to hit that milestone.  

Speaking with a group of reporters at CTIA's headquarters here, Baker said that CTIA is also focused on sharing spectrum with federal agencies. "I want us to be at the forefront of sharing, and I want us to be able to test it and see how we can collaborate more successfully than we have in the past," she said.

Baker most recently was senior vice president of government affairs for Comcast-NBCUniversal; NBCUniversal is owned by Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA). Before that she was an FCC commissioner from 2009-2011, having been nominated by Obama. She has also served as acting administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which oversees the government's use of spectrum among many other things.

Working at NTIA made her "realize how many agencies have spectrum holdings for so many diverse things," Baker said. She said that getting federal agencies like the Department of Defense to relinquish or share their spectrum with commercial carriers will be "difficult," but that the conversations are important to have, and that industry and the government will need to work collaboratively.

"We all need spectrum for the future," she said. "We're all going to need to figure out how to share it and how to reassign it and how to utilize it best" to maintain U.S. leadership in mobile as well as leadership in national defense.  

Last year the Pentagon and the broadcasting industry struck a deal to for the DoD to move operations off the 1755-1780 MHz band and let the FCC auction those airwaves as part of the AWS-3 auction, currently scheduled to start Nov. 13, a move long sought by the CTIA. The FCC has put a $10 billion reserve on the AWS-3 auction; the reserve is the minimum amount the FCC must raise through the auction to make it a success. The AWS-3 auction will span 65 MHz and will include 1,614 licenses in the 1695-1710 MHz, 1755-1780 MHz, and 2155-2180 MHz bands.

Baker said the AWS-3 auction and the broadcast incentive auction are "critical down payments on our spectrum future. " She said over the next year CTIA will be keeping its "eye on the ball" to ensure they are successful.  

"I am confident wireless industry will be active bidders in both auctions," she said. "We have a $53 billion track record of participating in spectrum auctions and we're going to be there with big checkbooks."

Underscoring CTIA's push to get more spectrum, the group said in its annual survey that U.S. wireless providers handled more than 3.23 trillion megabytes of data traffic in 2013, up 120 percent from the previous year. In 2012, CTIA reported that participating wireless carriers reported handling 1.47 trillion MB of data, which was up 69.3 percent from 2011.

Baker also touched on CTIA's response to a white paper released by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce as a part of its ongoing efforts to reform the Communications Act. The white paper called for comments on competition policy and the role of the FCC, and CTIA made clear it would like the wireless industry to remain lightly regulated.

In its response, CTIA said that Congress should do several things, including: ensure the FCC engages in "light touch" regulations; narrow the FCC's authority "to regulate only in specific areas where competition might not necessarily produce the desired result;" make sure there is a uniform national regulatory scheme for wireless communications products and services; understand that the broader communications marketplace with converged wireless and wireline competitors is "generally competitive, meaning that the usual rules for safeguarding competition embodied in the antitrust laws should be the basis for assessing competition;" and ensure "where there is meaningful intermodal competition, competitors should be regulated the same." CTIA also wants Congress to require a periodic review of the FCC's authority and regulations.

"I think that it's important particularly in the wireless not to do prescriptive regulation," Baker said. "This is a growing and flourishing and dynamic industry. At this point anything that inhibits that is going to be a mistake."

For more:
- see this CTIA release
- see this CTIA post
- see this CTIA document (PDF)

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