Airwaves: Measure First, Reallocate Second
December 17, 2009
spectrum licenses is no small task. Current usage of radio frequency
allocations should be measured before reallocation is considered, and broadcast
is not incompatible with a national wireless broadband network. Such were the
messages witnesses delivered at a hearing this morning of the House
Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet.
“Broadcasting and broadband are not ‘either/or’ propositions as some have
suggested; that’s a false choice,” NAB chief and former Senator Gordon Smith
told members of Congress.
The hearing focused on two bills. H.R. 3125 would require the FCC and the
National Telecommunications and Information Administration to catalog the
usages of spectrum between 225 MHz and 10 GHz, down to providing an estimate of
how many repeaters, transmitters and end users there are in a given frequency.
H.R. 3019 is the “Spectrum Relocation Improvement Act of 2009,” providing a
reimbursement framework for incumbent licensees who may be bumped off their
spectrum allocation in a reshuffle.
Thomas Stroup, CEO of Shared Spectrum Co. in Vienna, Va., suggested doing the
inventory before deciding to move incumbents. He said he was involved in a
previous reallocation process that took several years.
One example of the process is the 2GHz relocation, in which broadcast auxiliary
operations were squeezed into fewer channel on slightly higher frequencies. It
proved more complicated than originally anticipated. That relocation is
two-and-a-half years past the initial deadline. The extended deadline is now February of 2010, but insiders say another extension will probably be necessary.
Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) asked if a paper inventory would take too long.
Stroup said the National Science Foundation already had a lot of data. Michael
Calabrese of the New America Foundation suggested building on the white space
data base, and perhaps employed a method now used by British regulator Ofcom,
which has outfitted government fleet vehicles with receivers to collect
information on spectrum use.
The focus on spectrum use has intensified since the Obama Administration
charged the FCC with developing a nationwide wireless broadband network. The
commission must present its plan by February. FCC officials started floating
the idea of using TV spectrum for broadband in the fall. Several interested
parties have glommed onto the notion, from academics to lobbyists to
economists, who say broadband is a more efficient use of the spectrum currently
dedicated to delivery TV signals. One such proponent is Stuart Benjamin, a Duke
University professor recently appointed the FCC’s new “Scholar in Residence.”
Benjamin published a paper suggesting--somewhat tongue-in-cheek--that
broadcasters be regulated out of business.
Rep. Greg Waldon (R-Ore.) was appalled at the idea. “What’s this guy doing at
the FCC?” he said. “If we follow Benjamin’s suggestion, aren’t we just throwing
$2 billion into a paper shredder?” Two billion dollars being the fed’s
investment in preparing voters for the DTV transition. The NAB’s Smith told
Waldon that his phone’s been ringing off the hook since Benjamin’s paper came
Just how much spectrum is necessary for nationwide broadband is not clear. Rep.
John Dingell (D-Mich.) pressed the point, asking Steve Largent of The Wireless
Association if the industry had done its own usage studies. Largent replied
that the U.S. wireless spectrum is used more efficiently than anywhere else.
Dingell said he’d take that to mean there were no usage studies available.
“There is enough spectrum for now, but you’ll need more spectrum 10 years from
now, is that correct?” Dingell asked.
Largent replied that the wireless industry did indeed have sufficient spectrum
for the time being, “but will need more sooner than 10 years.” Dingell also
asked each witness if the bills being discussed supported a national broadband
plan. Only Dr. Ray Johnson from Lockheed Martin said they did not. He was not
asked to explain.
Lawmakers asked about alternatives to reallocation, such as dynamic or simultaneous
spectrum sharing and advanced compression technologies. Dale Hatfield, adjunct
professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder said compression is unlikely
to resolve the growing demand for spectrum. He leaned toward both sharing and
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) asked what percentage of demand could be satisfied by
dynamic spectrum sharing--where devices sense when allocated bandwidth is not
being used. Hatfield said it would be a “significant help.”
Stroup from Shared Spectrum said the military is already using dynamic
spectrum-sharing technology, and that more advanced devices were being
developed at Lockheed Martin.
“Lockheed was testing simultaneous sharing of multiple users,” he said,
referring to technology that allows simultaneous, differentiated uses of the
same frequencies. He said initial licensing agreements covered using it commercially
within TV white spaces in about 18 months time.
Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) went off-topic for a while, asking Smith about the
Comcast-NBCU joint venture. Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher of Virginia said
there would be separate hearings on the deal.
Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) brought up mobile DTV. He asked the witnesses if
people really wanted to watch a handful of channels on a fixed schedule. Just
as Largent was answering in the affirmative, Doyle received a text from someone
saying they wanted to see the Seahawks and the Steelers play in real time.
Hatfield, the Boulder professor, seized on the example, saying it defined the
crux of allocating communications spectrum. If more people want to watch the
same thing simultaneously, the broadcast approach is more efficient, he said.
If they want to watch individual content on their own time, wireless broadband
is more efficient.
The hearing concluded without a vote on either bill.
More on today’s hearing:
Gordon Smith’s full testimony is available here.
H.R. 3019, the Spectrum Reallocations Improvement Act of 2009, is here.
H.R. 3125, the House spectrum inventory bill, is here.