Agency reports to shape wireless spectrum allocation

The commercial pressure to free up more of the nation's airwaves for the latest wireless technologies is heading for a tipping point, as agencies clarify how they use and manage their portions of the radio frequency spectrum.

By the end of the month, departments must submit to the Commerce Department their plans on spectrum allocation, as called for by President Bush's spectrum management memorandum last December. The memo included 24 recommendations and key milestones, and required agencies to determine how much of the electromagnetic spectrum they are using and for what purposes.

The Defense Department, the government's largest consumer of electromagnetic spectrum, has eagerly participated in the process. Just as eagerly watching the outcome are some of the nation's top wireless companies, cautiously optimistic that bands of spectrum will be freed up and handed over to them to roll out some of the latest wireless services.

'Everyone is aware of the complexities of managing this asset,' said Badri Younes, DOD's director of spectrum management.

For years, DOD and commercial providers have fought bitterly over the limited resource.

'This is hard. That's what makes it worthwhile,' said John M.R. Kneuer, deputy assistant secretary for communications and information with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a Commerce bureau. 'The stakes and positions that impact equity holders are long held and fought with fierce conviction. Getting people to think about things in a different way is difficult.'

Earlier this year, the Office of Management and Budget asked each of the federal agencies to put a price on their use of the spectrum, said Michael Gallagher, assistant secretary of Commerce for communications and information. OMB guidance gives agencies tools to better identify spectrum requirements and the cost of investments in spectrum-dependent programs and systems.

'This focuses agencies on treating it like it's not free,' Gallagher said. 'It's a limited resource. It has always been that way.'

Gallagher said at the end of the month he would integrate the submitted information into an overarching Federal Strategic Spectrum Plan.
Commerce may consider reallocating some federal frequencies next year. The agency also is hopeful that new technologies will better promote sharing between software-defined radios, smart antennas and coding technologies.
'It may come to light that some federal frequencies are not being as utilized as they should be,' Gallagher said Oct. 31 at the kickoff of the Defense Spectrum Summit 2005 conference in Annapolis, Md.
Commerce will rely on an advisory group to make recommendations on how to accomplish spectrum reform. The department is looking for 20 executives from industry and academia to serve on the board.

Nominations sought

The agency will accept nominations until Nov. 28 for the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee, which arises from a recommendation in President Bush's 21st Century Spectrum Policy Initiative.

Probably no federal agency relies more on the spectrum than the Defense Department, which runs many of its electronic systems across bands of spectrum. For years, the department'citing national security needs'has fought to preserve its bands of the spectrum from encroachment by telecommunications companies.

'Our spectrum has become a key enabler for transformation,' said Vic Sparrow, deputy director for spectrum management in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration. He said many critical military missions are heavily reliant on the resource, while acknowledging that 'the department has been accused of hoarding spectrum.'

Sparrow said DOD is putting together a Spectrum Scorecard that will evaluate and rate each of the systems running over bands of spectrum.

Other agencies putting together spectrum plans are the Agriculture, Homeland Security, Interior and Transportation departments.

Commercial companies, which are quickly running out of available spectrum with the proliferation of wireless subscribers and devices, want some of the spectrum to roll out the latest wireless technologies.

'The reality is, we are deploying new services to more customers with more minutes with existing spectrum,' said Paul Garnett, assistant vice president for regulatory affairs for the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association in Washington. 'It should be a model for other customers as well.'

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