NTIA Identifies Federal Spectrum for Commercial Broadband

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The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has identified 115 MHz of wireless spectrum now controlled by the federal government that can be turned over or shared with commercial users for wireless broadband service, the agency said Monday.

The spectrum could be reallocated for commercial broadband within five years, part of an effort to identify 500 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband pushed by President Barack Obama and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

In June, Obama directed the NTIA and parent agency the Department of Commerce to identify 500 MHz of spectrum, from government agencies and other sources, that could be used for wireless broadband. Obama's memorandum followed the March release of the FCC's national broadband plan, which also recommended that it and other agencies free up 500 MHz of spectrum over the next decade.

The 115 MHz identified by NTIA is a first step toward reaching the 10-year goal, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a statement. This first spectrum identified for commercial use was part of a so-called fast-track evaluation of spectrum by the NTIA, and the agency will identify yet more spectrum for commercial uses, officials said.

Obama's policy goals will spur innovation in the U.S. wireless industry by making more spectrum available, added NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling.

"Today's announcement is a significant downpayment towards realizing that goal," he said in a statement. "NTIA will continue to work with the FCC and other U.S. agencies to make the full 500 megahertz of spectrum available while protecting vital government uses."

The NTIA recommends reallocating the 1695-1710 MHz band, now used by the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for weather alerts by satellite, and sharing the 3550-3650 MHz band between commercial interests and the U.S. Department of Defense, which uses the spectrum for radar and radio services. The NTIA recommended some geographic limitations on the spectrum, in an effort to prevent interference with existing services.

The NTIA looked at spectrum in four bands during its fast-track review. Wireless broadband carriers are interested largely in the lower-numbered spectrum including the 15 MHz around 1700 MHz.

The NTIA also examined 2,200 MHz of spectrum for possible reuse. The agency found that 28 percent is used by federal agencies, 35 percent is used by commercial entities, and another 37 percent is shared between federal and commercial users.

CTIA, a trade group representing mobile carriers, and TechAmerica, a trade group representing IT vendors, both praised the NTIA's report.

"The 15 MHz of spectrum that NTIA has identified below 3 GHz is just a start," CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent said in an e-mail. "We will continue to work to ensure that federal policymakers understand, and focus on, the importance of certain bands of spectrum ... for delivering on the promise of robust mobile broadband."

The NTIA's identification of the spectrum is a crucial step toward addressing a "skyrocketing" demand for new spectrum, added Charlie Greenwald, vice president of communications at TechAmerica.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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