NTIA report IDs 95MHz of federal spectrum for broadband repurposing

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), part of the Department of Commerce, released a report March 27, 2012, finding that 95MHz of spectrum currently used by some 20 federal agencies could be repurposed for commercial wireless broadband use, but that doing so would be challenging.

The new report from NTIA examined the possibility of reallocating 1775MHz to 1850MHz to wireless broadband. A variety of agencies have more than 3100 frequency assignments in the band, which is used for law enforcement surveillance, military tactical communications, air combat training and precision-guided munitions.

One of the biggest challenges involved in clearing the 95MHz of government users is cost. The report pins the price of doing so at $18 billion over 10 years. The NTIA report also identified other challenges, including allocating comparable spectrum to accommodate dislocated federal users of the 1755MHz-to-1850MHz band; what to do about incumbent spectrum users of frequency identified for relocation; and ensuring auction proceeds exceed the cost of reallocation as required by law.

Television broadcasters are among the incumbent frequency users that may be required to deal with the consequences of relocating federal spectrum users to clear the band. The Department of Defense already has identified 2025MHz to 2100MHz as its preferred option for relocation of most of its operations. This is the same spectrum used for Broadcast Auxiliary Service (BAS) contribution of digital ENG live shots, the same spectrum Sprint Nextel spent some $750 million and roughly five years moving BAS incumbents to, to free up 35MHz for national consumer broadband service.

The NTIA report proposes that a combination of relocating federal spectrum users and sharing spectrum between federal agencies and commercial users should be adopted to deal with spectrum repurposing. According to the report, “spectrum sharing is a vital component of satisfying the growing demand for access to spectrum.” It also recommends convening discussions between industry and the federal agencies impacted to examine sharing and other approaches.

In a statement released March 27, 2012, on the FCC website, Julius Genachowski, chairman of the agency, acknowledged that the cost of repurposing the entire 1755MHz-to-1850MHz band “would be very expensive” and that there is a “real and unique opportunity” to clear 25MHz of “high-value spectrum” in the near term for commercial wireless broadband use.

“The lower 25MHz in the 1755-1780MHz band, where there appears to be a viable path forward for mobile broadband, presents a near-term opportunity to free up spectrum that can help drive U.S. economic growth and our global competitiveness,” Genachowski said in the statement.

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.