Obama orders federal agencies to use spectrum more efficiently, make sharing easier

President Obama signed a White House memorandum that orders federal agencies to more efficiently use the spectrum they control and make it easier to share the airwaves with carriers as part of a multi-pronged effort to free up more spectrum for wireless broadband.

The memo builds on past administration efforts to encourage the sharing of spectrum between federal agencies and commercial carriers and to move more spectrum toward commercial use. The White House also said it is pledging $100 million in R&D funding to advance those goals. According to Multichannel News, by September, the National Science Foundation will hand out $23 million in spectrum-sharing research and development grants and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will announce the first of a planned $60 million in contracts for federal spectrum sharing efforts over the next five years.

Additionally, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology will distribute $17.5 million for spectrum and advanced communications research.

This is not the first time the Obama administration has talked up its efforts to encourage spectrum sharing. In July 2012, for example, the President's Council of Advisors on Policy and Technology  urged the Secretary of Commerce to immediately identify 1000 MHz that could be opened up for fresh wireless uses, but it also recommended that the spectrum be used to implement a new architecture that would "create the first shared-use spectrum superhighways." Further, in March 2012, the NTIA found that 95 MHz of spectrum currently in federal hands, the 1755-1850 MHz band, could be repurposed for commercial wireless use

Now, Obama wants the government to be more aggressive in its efforts and directs agencies to make using spectrum more efficiently core parts of how they operate. "Where technically and economically feasible, sharing can and should be used to enhance efficiency among all users and expedite commercial access to additional spectrum bands, subject to adequate interference protection for federal users, especially users with national security, law enforcement, and safety-of -life responsibilities," Obama wrote in the memo. "In order to meet growing federal spectrum requirements, we should also seek to eliminate restrictions on commercial carriers' ability to negotiate sharing arrangements with agencies."

Obama is establishing a "spectrum policy team" made up of administration officials to monitor how the FCC and NTIA are freeing spectrum and encouraging sharing, with an order to complete a report within one year. Within six months that team will publish a report making recommendations to Obama regarding market-based or other approaches that could give agencies greater incentive to share or relinquish spectrum, "while protecting the mission capabilities of existing and future systems that rely on spectrum use."

The NTIA is also being directed to find out how much spectrum different government agencies are actually using.

The memo drew widespread praise from wireless carriers, public interest groups and the FCC. "Today's Presidential Memorandum will enable us to meet the challenge of unleashing spectrum for commercial use while also ensuring more efficient use of spectrum," Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said in a statement. "Doing so means more opportunity for all Americans - greater access to jobs, healthcare, education and more. The FCC will continue to work closely with NTIA, other federal partners, and all stakeholders to achieve the goals set forth by the President in this Memorandum."

For more:
- see this White House memo (PDF)
- see this Reuters article
- see this Multichannel News article
- see this The Hill article
- see this National Journal article

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