Spectrum Summit seeks peace in the air

Spectrum Summit seeks peace in the air

How government divvies up the federal portion of the spectrum is the focus of intense interest.

Commerce assistant secretary Nancy J. Victory, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said regulators will 'step back and take a 20,000-foot view' of how electromagnetic frequencies are allocated to government and commercial users. Victory, along with Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell and David Gross, deputy assistant secretary of State for information policy, are on the hot seat.

'We're managing a finite resource, and we're pressing up against the finiteness,' Victory said. 'Are our principles right? Are our methods efficient enough? One question we'll look at is to what extent the principles of allocation should differ depending on whether the use is public or private.

'In defense and public safety, reliability is the most important principle. In commercial use, it's not reliability but capacity. There's a trade-off.'

The Commerce Department will hear ideas from public- and private-sector users at the Spectrum Summit on April 4 and 5 in Washington.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department last month announced that it would permit limited use by emergency first responders of the 138- to 144-MHz radio band under its control.

Steven Price, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for spectrum and command, control and communications policy, said decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis in cooperation with NTIA and state and local governments.

The 138- to 144-MHz band, used for military air traffic control and airfield ground support, lies below the 700- to 2,700-MHz frequencies that telecommunications carriers want released for so-called 3G, or third-generation, wireless uses.

DOD officials are particularly reluctant to share any of the 1,755- to 1,850-MHz band used for weapons and satellite control systems.

At the recent ComNet trade show in Washington, Andrew Levin, Democratic counsel to the House Commerce Committee, said 3G applications 'are not here yet. It's not necessarily true that 'if you build it, they will come.' '

Speaking on a panel about policy and regulation, Levin said no wireless killer app is in sight, and '3G is not the government's highest priority.' He said carriers should use their existing spectrum more efficiently, stop analog cellular service and build more wireless cell sites.

Any spectrum that the government relinquishes 'would be better put to use to improve the quality of wireless voice service'get customers to cut the cord' and stop using wireline phones, he said.

Competing standards

State's Gross, also a panelist, said 3G wireless has rolled out abroad more slowly than the industry expected, but wireless is the only phone service available in some nations.

The United States should not 'be sheepish about our multiple competing standards,' Gross said. Although the Global System for Mobile Communications standard prevails overseas, the United States' Code Division Multiple Access standard is more efficient worldwide than GSM, he said.

Victory, who also spoke on the panel, said NTIA and FCC by late spring will release an assessment of the effects on agencies of opening up the federal 1,710- to 1,770-MHz band to commercial sharing. Also this spring, she said, the Bush administration will make a policy decision about fostering wireless broadband development.

Panelist Kevin Martin, an FCC commissioner, said there is 'substantially more consolidation coming' among domestic and international carriers. Telecommunications capacity 'is tremendous and needs rationalization,' Martin said.

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