GAO: Military spectrum issue needs study

GAO: Military spectrum issue needs study

Rear Adm. Robert M. Nutwell agreed with the GAO report.

Sparring between the Defense Department and the telecommunications industry over rights to specific radio frequencies should be put on hold so officials can study the issue further, a GAO report recommended last month.

Plans to identify spectrum that can be used for advanced wireless systems and auction it to the private sector by Sept. 30, 2002, were premature, said the report, Defense Spectrum Management: More Analysis Needed to Support Spectrum Use Decisions for the 1755-1850 MHz Band.

The Clinton administration had set the deadline for the Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department, but the agencies sought a delay after heated discussion of the topic broke out between the wireless industry and Defense.

Telecommunications companies see the spectrum as prime real estate on which to build the next generation of wireless applications. Defense has been using the band for decades to operate a variety of command, control and communications systems.

Representatives of the wireless industry have called for DOD to move these applications to another part of the spectrum.

But Defense has said that such a move could cost more than $4 billion and may not be completed until 2017 [GCN, June 18, Page 1].

Two studies aren't enough

GAO auditors examined both a Defense report and a study conducted by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association on spectrum allocation. 'Neither study contains adequate information to make reallocation decisions,' the GAO report said.

Further, GAO said if spectrum were to be auctioned according to the current schedule, 'the federal government will make decisions without knowing the full extent of the risks it faces or the steps available to reduce those risks.'

The report said Defense would sustain degradation of its systems if the bandwidth was opened to commercial applications while DOD was still using the frequency.

In its report, DOD estimated that relocating some of its major communications systems would cost $2.8 billion, and vacating the 1755-MHz-to-1850-MHz band altogether would cost $4.3 billion. But GAO said those estimates were incomplete and could fall short by billions of dollars.

In order to avoid such pitfalls, GAO recommended that Defense:

  • Complete a system-by-system analysis to determine current and future spectrum needs


  • Prepare a long-range spectrum plan


  • Complete technical, operational and cost assessments of satellites in the 1755-MHz-to-1850-MHz band


  • Ask FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to identify comparable alternative spectrum for use by DOD systems


  • Coordinate with other federal agencies to review national spectrum management plans and establish a clearly defined national spectrum strategy.


  • In a written response to the report, Rear Adm. Robert M. Nutwell, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and space, said DOD agrees that the department should study the matter further.

    Defense officials have sharpened their focus on spectrum management in recent weeks.
    On Aug. 29, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Henry H. Shelton sent the Senate a letter asking lawmakers to maintain DOD's authority over the spectrum until comparable bandwidth is identified and made available.

    Also last month, Margaret E. Myers, acting deputy assistant secretary of Defense and deputy CIO, said the department will appoint an assistant deputy chief information officer for spectrum management.

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