stones balancing (Billion Photos/

Can government balance agency and commercial spectrum use?

While lawmakers are concerned that the process to free up spectrum occupied by federal agencies for commercial use is broken, senior advisors said discussions are underway to adequately protect agency transmissions.

In a House Energy and Commerce Committee Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Michael Doyle (D-Pa.) cited several agencies' concerns about the recently concluded FCC auction of 24 GHz spectrum designed to spur development of next-generation wireless services.

"In the past," the process of repurposing federally held spectrum to commercial use "has worked well," Doyle said. "I'm very concerned there's been a breakdown" between the Federal Communications Commission, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and other federal stakeholders," he said.

The NTIA  is charged with shepherding federally held spectrum, advising the president on telecom and information policy and governing federal agencies' use of spectrum. The FCC is in charge of managing and allocating spectrum for commercial markets.

In late June, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA complained the FCC's plan for 24 GHz spectrum for commercial 5G could severely interfere with weather satellite transmissions.

NTIA Senior Policy Advisor Derek Khlopin and FCC Chief of Office of Engineering and Technology Julius Knapp testified at the July 16 subcommittee hearing. They stressed repeatedly in their testimony that discussions over commercial use of 24 GHz spectrum and satellite interference had to do with adequately protecting transmissions, not whether the spectrum should be used for commercial purposes.

The FCC, NTIA, NOAA and NASA, said Knapp, are working on protections that would insulate the federal incumbents' satellite transmissions from commercial traffic in the bands.

Finding a balance of protecting federal spectrum incumbents, while allowing commercial use, said Knapp, is difficult. Restrictions that limit commercial traffic too much would negate the use of the band, not enough impacts the incumbent, he said.

Ultimately, however, both Knapp and Khlopin believe that balance can be struck.

"Are you confident that commercial wireless operations within the 24 GHz band can co-exist peacefully with weather sensing capabilities now and into the future?" asked Rep. Bill Johnson (D-Ohio).

"Yes," said Knapp.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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