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NTIA identifies wireless spectrum that can be repurposed for broadband use

The U.S. Department of Commerce, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), has said that 95 megahertz (MHz) of prime spectrum can be repurposed for wireless broadband use.

Reallocation of this spectrum, the agencies said, would represent significant progress towards achieving President Obama’s goal to nearly double the amount of commercial spectrum available this decade.

NTIA, working with federal agencies, evaluated the potential of the 1755–1850 MHz band to accommodate commercial wireless broadband service. Over 20 federal agencies currently hold more than 3,100 individual frequency assignments in this band to perform a host of functions, including law enforcement surveillance, military tactical communications, air combat training and precision-guided munitions.

While NTIA’s analysis shows it is possible to repurpose all 95 MHz of spectrum for commercial wireless broadband, there are several challenges that need to be met before making a formal recommendation to the FCC.

In the past, the federal government has freed up spectrum for exclusive commercial use by clearing a spectrum band of federal users, who typically relocated to other bands. However, given the growing demand for spectrum by both industry and the federal agencies, it is increasingly difficult to find desirable spectrum that can be vacated by federal users as well as spectrum in which to relocate these federal users.

Due to the scarcity of spectrum, the complexity of federal operations, and the time and cost of relocating federal users, the old approach alone is no longer feasible.

In addition, NTIA’s analysis of the cost of a complete relocation raises questions as to whether the proceeds from auctioning the 1755-1850 MHz band for commercial use will exceed federal relocation costs, as required by law. Moreover, some of the federal systems in this band may require more than a decade to relocate, which could further complicate deployment of commercial services.

Subsequently, in the report released this week, the NTIA suggested hosting a series of discussions between industry and the relevant federal agencies under the auspices of the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee. The goal is to find ways to work together through sharing or other means in order to reduce the time and expense of repurposing the 1755-1850 MHz band, while maintaining essential Federal capabilities and maximizing commercial utilization.

Repurposing the 95 MHz of spectrum at 1755-1850 MHz, combined with NTIA’s prior recommendation to reallocate 115 MHz of spectrum, would bring federal agencies’ contribution to 40 percent of the President’s goal. NTIA said it is committed to finding ways to maximize the economic potential of this spectrum in a cost-effective manner, while maintaining essential Federal missions.