Battle of the Bands Goes to Congress

The U.S. Congress needs to find new wireless spectrum — and ways to share it, notes Network World. The House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet held hearings Tuesday about the U.S. spectrum “crisis”.

Two new bills in Congress attempt to deal with the issue:

  • The Radio Spectrum Inventory Act (H.R. 3125), would require the FCC and the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to inventory the wireless spectrum available in the U. are before Congress.
  • The Spectrum Relocation Improvement Act (H.R. 3019), would streamline the process for federal agencies to turn over spectrum that could be auctioned to private bidders

The Wireless Association President Steve Largent issued the following statement:


“With more than 276 million subscribers in the U.S., it is vital for our industry to secure at least 800 MHz of additional spectrum within the next six years. Spectrum is our industry’s backbone and it is what allows us to continue to innovate and create new apps, products, and services. Without this additional spectrum, our industry will cease to provide U.S. consumers with the most innovative and most competitive wireless offerings in the world.

“We need to pass H.R. 3125 so we can have a properly constructed inventory to see what spectrum is available. Once the bill is passed, policymakers need to be prepared to reallocate spectrum identified by the inventory as un- or under-utilized for advanced wireless services. Additionally, we need to pass H.R. 3019 so the improvements to the spectrum relocation process will ensure that any bands that may be reallocated are made available in a timely manner.

Representative Henry Waxman, committee chairman and a California Democrat warned against going after military spectrum. “In simple terms, we need better information about spectrum usage by federal and nonfederal entities,” he said.

Two witnesses raised concerns about the bills.

The National Association of Broadcasters supports the bills, but is worried that broadcasters could get pushed out of their spectrum, said Gordon Smith, NAB president and CEO. Smith told lawmakers that Stuart Benjamin, a scholar in residence at the FCC, wrote a paper this year advocating that broadcast spectrum be turned over to mobile carriers. “Broadcasting’s ability to serve one-to-many in small bandwidth segments realizes tremendous efficiencies that cannot be achieved by any other service,” Smith said.

Ray Johnson, senior vice president and CTO at arms merchant Lockheed Martin, also raised concerns about the spectrum inventory bill. The legislation would require the FCC and NTIA to disclose information about classified wireless test beds run by the company on behalf of U.S. agencies, he said.

White Spaces” are another initiative by the FCC. It would not touch spectrum that broadcasters are currently using. It would utilize unused channels for WiFi-like broadband wireless connections with ranges of several miles. Giving away unused television spectrum for unlicensed wireless broadband wouldn’t generate any money for the Treasury, although it could provide broadband to poor and rural citizens. White spaces might also help the newspaper and magazine industry, if ubiquitous “free” spectrum is available for e-books and magazines. The FCC adopted rules for unlicensed use of tv white spaces on November 4, 2008 (pdf).

The unused white spaces between broadcast channels wouldn’t be ideal for cellular carriers, but licensed use of current broadcast frequencies might make more sense. Whether broadcasting “The Jewelry Channel” to millions delivers more “public service” than broadband wireless is open to debate.

Unlike virtually every other broadband wireless provider, broadcasters don’t pay taxpayers a dime for using (our) spectrum. The Government gives it to group owners.

Of course if the CTIA really wanted spectrum, they could ask their own members. Both AT&T and Verizon bought large chunks of 700 MHz and 1700/2100 (AWS) spectrum and have never used them. Cable operators are sitting on their $2.4B in unused AWS spectrum, hoping to drive up prices through scarcity. Then there’s 40 MHz of MSS (satellite) spectrum that can be used terrestrially. It’s virtually unused today, but should kick in big time in 2010.

That adds up to about 250MHz. Now add 250 MHz from broadcasters and 250 MHz from the military and you’ve got 750 MHz of unused spectrum. New technologies like LTE and WiMAX can send 5-10 times the data in the same channel space. That’s about three times the spectrum at 5-10 times the speed. Easy.

What’s the problem?

Broadband.gov overviews initiatives intended to accelerate broadband deployment across the United States. The FCC’s broadband plan, mandated by Congress, is due next February and the consideration of freeing spectrum for commercial use isn’t final.

Related Dailywireless articles include; Cellcos: One Thing – Bandwidth, FCC Considers Auctioning Off TV Frequencies, White Spaces Trialed in North Carolina, FCC: Change for Broadcasting & USF, FCC Moves Forward with White Space Databases, Comcast Goes Mobile with WiMAX, Time-Warner Adding Mobile WiMAX Service, ATSC Mobile DTV Standard Approved, Genachowski: Faster Tower Approval, Open Platforms, Smartphones: Data Tsunami Coming,

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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