White House considers swiping spectrum from Pentagon

The Obama administration is going to investigate a swath of spectrum currently being used by the Defense Department and federal law enforcement agencies to see if it would be suitable for commercial mobile broadband.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration will explore a chunk of 95 MHz of spectrum in the 1755 MHz to 1850 MHz band, and look at its technical properties and the cost of repurposing it for commercial licensees. Lawrence Strickling, the assistant secretary of commerce and NTIA administrator, told the Washington Post that the NTIA and FCC will investigate spectrum currently being used for satellite, surveillance and aeronautical operations.  He expects to complete the analysis by Sept. 30.

In November, the NTIA issued a report that said there is 115 MHz of spectrum now currently in the hands of the federal government that could be used for wireless broadband. The report, which was the result of a memorandum President Obama issued in June, was widely praised within the wireless industry, which has been clamoring for more spectrum to meet growing mobile data demands. The proposal, which came in two forms--a  10-year timetable and a so-called fast-track option for five years--dovetails with the FCC's national broadband plan, which calls for freeing 300 MHz of spectrum over the next five years and a total of 500 MHz over the next 10 years for wireless.

In a separate but related spectrum battle, the FCC is seeking authority from Congress to establish incentive auctions for spectrum, and hopes to get up to 120 MHZ from broadcasters. Broadcasters have been cool to the proposal.

However, in a fresh bit of acrimony, the president of the National Association of Broadcasters recently sent a letter to the heads of the commerce committees in the House and Senate pointing to a report that Time Warner Cable is "warehousing" spectrum.

"If there truly is a spectrum crisis, then allowing companies the size of Time Warner to hoard airwaves should not be permitted," NAB president Gordon Smith wrote.

The CTIA followed up with its own statement. "Wireless Internet access provides broadband to the person at anytime and anywhere. The ability to access the Internet, regardless of your location, is the great equalizer," said CTIA President Steve Largent. "That is why it's baffling that the NAB chooses to challenge a voluntary incentive spectrum auction. Considering the U.S. has a wireless penetration rate of 93 percent versus the broadcasters who only serve about 10 percent of the U.S. population over the air, we see this as a great opportunity for broadcasters who are literally sitting on more than a 100 MHz of unused spectrum to contribute their spectrum and get compensated. It's truly a win-win for their members and industry. More importantly, it is a huge win for consumers."

For more:
- see this Washington Post article
- see this The Hill article

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