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House Bill Calls for Spectrum Inventory and Reallocation Plans

Last week, the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet approved the Radio Spectrum Inventory Act and forwarded to the full House Committee on Energy and Commerce by voice vote.

The Act, which requires the NTIA and the FCC to complete its inventory within 180 days after the bill is enacted—covers spectrum between 225 MHz and 10 GHz. The inventory must identify who is using the spectrum, "the total amount of spectrum, by band of frequencies, allocated to each Federal or non-Federal user (in percentage terms and in sum) and the geographic areas covered by their respective allocations."

"As more and more Americans use data-intensive smartphones and as services like mobile video emerge, the demand for spectrum to support these applications and devices will grow dramatically," said Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-VA). "Additional spectrum for commercial wireless services will be needed and it will be needed soon. Today the Subcommittee continues its effort to ensure that these challenges are met with the goal of enhancing the consumer experience and facilitating the future growth of mobile services. The first necessary step is obtaining a thorough understanding of current spectrum users and their uses of the spectrum they have been assigned, revealing areas where relocations could occur or where spectrum sharing may be feasible."

In order for the government to gauge spectrum use, the two agencies are charged with providing a head count of all transmitters and other RF-emitting devices on a band-by-band basis within the spectrum under scrutiny. The NTIA and FCC are also required to identify how much spectrum is being used, broken down by geography, frequency band, amount and percentage of time used, number of end users "or other measures as appropriate to the particular band and radio service."

The inventory also has to include a listing of non-government spectrum users, including those who broker or otherwise communications services to the public. Specifically, the House Act will require business names and addresses of these service providers.

The FCC and NTIA are also charged with identifying "to the greatest extent possible" the coverage area of transmitters used by licensed spectrum users, apparently to aid in locating certain regions or zones where other users could be licensed without creating interference problems for the existing services.

Legal, but unlicensed spectrum users are not exempted in this effort to enumerate everyone occupying a space in the country's RF real estate. The inventory mandated by Congress has to list these "unlicensed intentional radiators" too.

The purpose of the inventory is to identify under-utilized spectrum. The NTIA and FCC are also charged with identifying areas of the spectrum that are the least used, along with an explanation of how this was determined and a recommendation as to whether the spectrum identified should be reallocated for other purposes. The two agencies are required to provide this information sometime within the first year after the enactment of the Radio Spectrum Inventory act, and then annually thereafter.

The planned legislation also requires that the inventory be made available to the public via the Internet through a centralized portal or Website.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.