The U.S. Department of Commerce, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), yesterday announced the results of a report that found 95 MHz of prime spectrum could be repurposed for wireless broadband use.

NTIA, along with various federal agencies, evaluated the potential of the 1755-1850 MHz band to accommodate commercial wireless broadband service. While the wireless industry has had its eye on the spectrum band for a long time, more than 20 federal agencies currently hold more than 3,100 individual frequency assignments in this band to perform a host of mission-critical functions, including law enforcement surveillance, military tactical communications, air combat training and precision-guided munitions.

While NTIA’s analysis shows it is possible to repurpose all 95 MHz of spectrum for commercial wireless broadband, there are several challenges that need to be met before making a formal recommendation to the FCC.

The NTIA cited a number of challenges facing the possible reallocation of current frequency assignments, noting that it's unclear whether the proceeds from auctioning the 1755-1850 MHz band for commercial use will exceed federal relocation costs, as required by law. Moreover, some of the federal systems in the band may require more than a decade to relocate, which could further complicate deployment of commercial services.

The NTIA proposes a combination of relocating federal users and sharing spectrum between federal agencies and commercial users. The association contends that spectrum sharing will be a vital component to satisfying the growing demand for spectrum, and federal and non-federal users will need to adopt new spectrum-sharing technologies.

The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) praised the NTIA's findings and recommendations.

“NTIA’s conclusions today reflect an important step toward reaching the country’s broadly expressed national goal of making an additional 500 MHz of spectrum available for broadband use within the next 10 years. Without continued progress on spectrum availability, mobile consumers will face digital gridlock," said Grant Seiffert, president of the TIA.

Seiffert called on policymakers to support policies that help satisfy the growing demand for spectrum.

"Investment in the network will not only safeguard the growth of global communications and business, it will spur economic growth and job creation in the U.S," he said.

CTIA has been an ardent supporter of researching available spectrum in the 1755-1780 MHz band. Steve Largent, president and CEO of CTIA, praised the report and its conclusions but also stressed the need to move quickly.

"We will be significantly concerned if NTIA's efforts to clear the 1755-1780 portion of the band remain in limbo until relocation of all of the operations in the entire 1755-1850 MHz band can be completed," Largent said. "Moving forward with 1755-1780 MHz, which has a natural AWS 3 pairing identified in the recent spectrum legislation, should be of paramount importance for NTIA and the administration."

Joan Marsh, AT&T's vice president of federal regulatory, called the report an important step and commended the NTIA for moving aggressively and creatively toward the reallocation of a significant amount of spectrum vitally needed by the wireless industry.

"We look forward to reviewing NTIA’s report in detail and to working cooperatively with both NTIA and the impacted government agencies to address reallocation challenges in a manner that will ensure that the identified spectrum bands are made available expeditiously, while protecting vital government services that cannot be easily relocated,” Marsh said.

Tom Tauke, executive vice president for public affairs, policy and communications at Verizon, said the NTIA’s report is good news and shows initiative on the government's part.

“While the report appropriately indicates that there will be hurdles and limitations in repurposing the 1755-1850 megahertz band for commercial use, its focus on achieving that objective is very encouraging," Tauke said. "The key to continued innovation and growth in the wireless industry is the government’s commitment to ensuring that sufficient spectrum is available to meet the expanding needs of consumers. Verizon looks forward to working with the NTIA and the other federal agencies to make the maximum amount of spectrum available for mobile use as soon as possible.”

Yesterday’s report is in response to a June 2010 Presidential Memorandum that directed the Secretary of Commerce, working through NTIA, to collaborate with the FCC to make available an additional 500 MHz of spectrum over the next 10 years for commercial wireless broadband service.

In November 2010, NTIA released a 10-year plan and timetable for meeting the president’s goal. NTIA identified 2,200 MHz of spectrum for evaluation, the process for evaluating these candidate bands and the steps necessary to make the selected spectrum available for wireless broadband. In addition, NTIA identified some nearer-term spectrum reallocation opportunities, recommending a total of 115 MHz of spectrum that could be made available for wireless broadband use within five years.