Federal Government To Add 500 MHz of Wireless Spectrum

Plans to double wireless capacity in next 10 years, legislation and incentives needed to drive transition.

President Obama has directed the federal government to free up some 500 MHz of broadband spectrum over the next decade, targeted mainly for mobile use, in what officials called “the most significant spectrum initiative ever undertaken in this country.”

The four-step plan seeks to identify available government and commercial spectrum, implement new legislation and incentives to drive the transition, redeploy spectrum to high-value uses and create new jobs. Officials said that prompt action is required to prevent the U.S. from falling behind in technological innovation.

“This initiative will catalyze private sector investment, contribute to economic growth, make revenue available to the Federal Government, and help to create hundreds of thousands of jobs,” said Lawrence Summers, director of the White House National Economic Council, in a speech at the New America Foundation.

The presidential directive, which, in effect, endorses an earlier outline by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to uncover under-used broadband, orders the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to collaborate with the FCC to identify available spectrum currently used by government and commercial entities.

The NTIA will fast-track the process to determine by October 1, 2010 spectrum that can be made available within five years for exclusive or shared use.

In addition, the government said that, in a separate effort, it will inventory spectrum currently in use by government and commercial users and make the information publicly available.

Under the plan, federal agencies whose spectrum is reallocated would receive upfront planning and research funds and be allowed to use a portion of the proceeds to improve communications technology.

The order further calls for legislation, as first recommended by the FCC, to rubber-stamp so-called incentive auctions allowing current commercial spectrum holders to gain a portion of the revenue if they voluntarily participate.

Order addresses an expected surge in mobile data traffic

In making its case, the government pointed to an explosion in mobile data traffic, citing industry data predicting that mobile secure data use will expand 40 fold over the next five years.

Coda Research Consultancy, a U.K.-based researcher, forecasts that U.S. mobile handset data traffic will grow from its current monthly rate of 8 Pbytes to 327 Pbytes by 2015.

During that time frame, mobile Internet users are expected to outstrip desktop Internet users.

Other data suggests that in the next three years a $30 billion industry will spring out of some 20 billion downloads from mobile application stores, prodded by mobile broadband activity and smart phones.

Government officials said that the majority of freed-up spectrum will be auctioned off for licensed mobile broadband while a smaller amount will be made available for unlicensed use by technology start-ups, small businesses and other entities that “will enable new generations of uses that we cannot even foresee today.”

The last major spectrum reallocation, which concluded 10 years ago, tripled the amount available for commercial mobile radio services, prompting a tripling in the number of mobile subscribers, a 250 percent uptick in investments and a tripling of jobs, officials said.

Plan draws praise from wireless providers

Wireless companies applauded the President’s plan.

“By committing to free up 500 MHz of spectrum, mobile broadband service will continue to provide consumers, including those who do not have access to high-speed wireline service, with the convenience of wireless Internet anytime, anywhere,” said Steve Largent, CTIA: The Wireless Association, president and chief executive, in a statement.

“By making spectrum available for auction, the Administration will enable the wireless industry to invest billions of dollars to purchase the licensed spectrum, and billions more to build and upgrade the networks that fuel our ‘virtuous cycle’ of innovation,” Largent said.

“Wireless broadband services promise the benefits of the Internet to all Americans, but our nation currently lacks sufficient wireless spectrum and we risk losing our global leadership in broadband innovation,” said Gary Shapiro, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) president and chief executive, in a statement.

“Not only will freeing 500 MHz of spectrum expand broadband availability, it will create jobs and push our economic recovery forward through innovation and new technology,” Shapiro said.

Dennis Wharton, National Association of Broadcasters executive vice president, sounded a more cautious tone.

“We appreciate FCC assurances that further reclamation of broadcast television spectrum will be completely voluntary, and we're convinced that America can have both the finest broadband and broadcasting system in the world without jeopardizing the future of free and local TV service to tens of millions of viewers,” Wharton said, in a statement.

“We also believe the first priority of Congress ought to be passage of spectrum inventory legislation that identifies fallow spectrum or companies that may be 'warehousing' the airwaves."

TAGS: wireless,mobile,FCC,broadband,Obama

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