DOD gains allies in the fight to keep its spectrum

DOD gains allies in the fight to keep its spectrum

John Stenbit fears giving up some bands could jeopardize Defense communications.

The Defense Department may have won its battle with the wireless communications industry over the use of radio frequency bands.

A renewed emphasis on national security after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may have helped the department's cause.

'We feel that everyone understands what DOD has been saying for the past decade or so: The need to maintain military readiness did not end with the Cold War,' Defense CIO John P. Stenbit said. 'The viability of the military frequency spectrum is critical to ensure that military communications systems operate as intended.'

For nearly a year, Defense and the wireless industry wrangled over use of spectrum in the 1,755- to 1,850-MHz band. DOD has used the band for decades and argued that giving it up to the private sector would threaten mission-critical systems. The wireless industry sees the band as crucial in developing the next wave of commercial wireless services.

But the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Federal Communications Commission this month announced a plan that would leave the 1,755- to 1,850-MHz band largely untouched. Officials with the agencies will spend the next six months studying whether industry could use the 1,710- to 1,770-MHz and 2,110- to 2,170-MHz bands.

The NTIA and FCC will report their findings next spring.

Just two months before the terrorist attacks, Defense officials were struggling to convince Congress of the need to preserve the spectrum. By most accounts, they were losing the fight.

But in a climate of security concerns and looming terrorist threats, experts say, wireless industry leaders will have a tough time convincing the government to turn over Defense spectrum so they can, in effect, roll out the next wave of high-speed Internet access and make more money.

'Administrations tend to be probusiness,' said Ray Bjorklund, vice president of Federal Sources Inc. of McLean, Va. But these days, he said, 'instead of thinking about what it's going to take to make businesses happy, let's figure out what it's going to take to preserve national security.'

Lives at stake

Federal agencies currently use much of the 1,710- to 1,770-MHz band, and the Defense Department had already agreed to relinquish some portions below 1,755 MHz in exchange for payment to relocate to another part of the spectrum.

But Stenbit remains concerned about possibly having to turn over the 1,755- to 1,770-MHz band, which he said is used for guided munitions and satellite communications.

The cellular industry is 'looking at multiple ways to make money. For us, if we can't guide airplanes and they don't fly right and they crash. ' These are serious life-threatening issues,' Stenbit said. 'This is our problem.'

But Stenbit acknowledged that the post-Sept. 11 climate has led to a 'cooperative environment within the government where national security and homeland defense have become high-priority.'

The cellular industry has publicly praised the spectrum plan, calling it a win for all parties. 'This is a positive step forward for the wireless industry,' said Tom Wheeler, president and chief executive officer of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association in Washington. CTIA represents the 50 largest wireless carriers.

Demand for wireless services has grown exponentially in recent years and has created an enormous need for spectrum. But with 115 million cellular telephone users in the United States and 2,500 more each hour, spectrum is quickly running out.

DOD's band stand

The 1,755- to 1,850-MHz band was one of several options for future wireless use identified at the 2000 World Radio Conference in Turkey. But DOD officials have argued that losing the band would negatively affect key military satellite systems such as the Global Positioning System, Milstar and the Defense Support Program.

Federal rules have set a Sept. 30, 2002, deadline for the auction of the 1,710- to 1,770-MHz and 2,110- to 2,170-MHz bands, but the administration has moved to postpone the deadline until Sept. 30, 2004.

Defense has had some support on Capitol Hill. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, said encroaching on DOD's radio frequency would hurt the country as it faces a war.

'Our motive has always been to protect the Defense spectrum for national security issues, especially in light of recent events,' said Gary Hoitsma, a spokesman for Inhofe. 'We would certainly be pleased if decisions are made to maintain the existing spectrum as it is.'

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