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Plans to share federal spectrum met with skepticism

Mon, 07/23/2012 - 1:55pm
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

A plan to make the federal government share its spectrum with the wireless industry is being met with skepticism by an FCC commissioner and the wireless industry.

An advisory council to President Barack Obama put out a report last week favoring Wi-Fi-style spectrum sharing for federal spectrum, instead of reallocating the airwaves to commercial users.

The report recommends identifying 1,000 MHz of federal spectrum for "shared use superhighways."

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai said he has "serious concerns about the report’s apparent dismissal of clearing and reallocating federal spectrum for commercial use."

Though "spectrum sharing has its place … I continue to believe that clearing federal spectrum bands and reallocating them for exclusive commercial use is a critical component of any sensible spectrum strategy," he said.

The wireless industry has long eyed the spectrum as a possible source of additional capacity for traffic-laden networks, but a recent NTIA report threw cold water on the possibility of moving federal users off the airwaves entirely and recommended alternative solutions such as spectrum sharing.

The new report from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology touted spectrum sharing as a solution to the standoff. The approach would look similar to the FCC's use of television white space spectrum, which makes use of empty frequencies between broadcast channels.

"Spectrum sharing can take a number of forms, but its purpose is to ensure that when the primary user does not need the spectrum, another party can put it to good use, as opposed to allowing it to remain fallow," Jason Furman, deputy director of the National Economic Council, and John Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, wrote in a co-authored blog on the White House website.

"While a government communications or radar system may depend on spectrum being available in certain places at specific times, that spectrum can be freed up for commercial purposes at other times and places while respecting the paramount needs of the federal system,” they said.

Furman and Holdren conceded that spectrum sharing would bring some challenges, "requiring careful coordination between users to avoid harmful interference. In some cases, the simpler approach may be for federal agencies to relocate their systems entirely out of their existing spectrum bands into alternative bands."

CTIA commended the government for finding "creative approaches" to solving the spectrum crunch but expressed some reservations about sharing spectrum in lieu of clearing it.

"It is sensible to investigate creative approaches for making federal government spectrum commercially available, including the development of certain sharing capabilities," CTIA regulatory affairs executive Chris Guttman-McCabe said. "At the same time, and as Congress recognized in the recently passed spectrum legislation, the gold standard for deployment of ubiquitous mobile broadband networks remains cleared spectrum."

Joan Marsh, vice president of federal regulatory affairs for AT&T, said in a blog post that the operator is "concerned with the report’s primary conclusion that ‘the norm for spectrum use should be sharing, not exclusivity.' The report fails to recognize the benefits of exclusive use licenses, which are well known."

FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel did not share the reservations of commissioner Pai, calling the report "a good place to start." None of the other FCC commissioners issued comments about the report. Chairman Julius Genachowski said he would issue draft regulations reflecting the report's recommendations later this year.

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