Agencies jockey over wireless spectrum

By the end of this month, federal agencies will release to the Commerce Department plans on how they will manage their allotment of the nation's airwaves.

Since President Bush unveiled a sweeping spectrum management memorandum last December that included 24 recommendations and key milestones, federal agencies have been scrambling to determine how much of the electromagnetic spectrum they are using and for what purposes.

Eagerly participating in the process is the Defense Department, the government's largest consumer of electromagnetic spectrum. Some of the nation's top wireless companies are watching the outcome, cautiously optimistic that bands of spectrum will be freed up in the process 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. Younes spoke at the Defense Spectrum Summit 2005 conference held this week in Annapolis, Md.

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

Earlier this year, the Office of Management and Budget provided a capital planning and investment control document to each of the federal agencies requesting information on the spectrum cost, according to Michael Gallagher, assistant secretary of Commerce for communications and information.

The OMB guidance gives agencies tools to better identify spectrum requirements and the cost of investments in spectrum-dependent programs and systems.

The information submitted will be integrated into an overarching Federal Strategic Spectrum Plan. Under the plan, Commerce may consider reallocating some federal frequencies next year.

Commerce will also rely on an advisory group to make recommendations on the best way to accomplish spectrum reform. Late last week, Commerce placed a notice in the Federal Register that the agency is looking for 20 industry and academia executives to advise the government on a broad range of issues regarding radio frequency spectrum policy and reform.

Commerce will be accepting nominations until Nov. 28 for the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee, spawned by one of the 24 recommendations in President Bush's 21st Century Spectrum Policy Initiative.

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