Feds to spend $1 billion on new airwaves

Auction expected to cover costs of shift to new bands

It will cost 12 federal agencies nearly $936 million to move their radio communications out of a range of the spectrum that the Federal Communications Commission plans to auction off for next-generation mobile broadband services, according to a Commerce Department report issued late last month.

Under the December 2004 Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act, which called for auctioning spectrum in the 1710- to 1755-MHz band used for fixed wireless government communications, Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration was tasked with estimating the cost of reassigning systems already operating in the band. The good news, according to NTIA, is that the $936 million figure is significantly less than wireless industry estimates.

'We found a way to open up a 'beach front' spectrum for key economic activity without jeopardizing our national security,' Michael Gallagher, assistant secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, said in a statement.

Going once, twice

A Commerce spokesperson said the cost of moving to new frequencies would be covered by money from the spectrum auction. Commerce wouldn't estimate what the FCC's auction might earn, but the last significant spectrum sale raised more than $2 billion.

In addition to the 1710- to 1755-MHz spectrum, the FCC plans to auction spectrum in the 2110- to 2155-MHz band, which is a nongovernment band.

According to the NTIA analysis, 2,240 systems will have to be reassigned to new radio frequencies. Most of the work should be completed in three years. Affected agencies include the Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior and Justice departments, as well as the Federal Aviation Administration, IRS, NASA and the Postal Service.

The Defense Department's migration is expected to cost almost $289 million, Justice's about $263 million, and Energy's roughly $174 million.

Most DHS frequency reassignments will take place in Customs and Border Protection. The entire DHS bill should come to around $91 million, according to NTIA.

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