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Obama Memo Orders Agencies to Free 500 MHz for Broadband

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama this morning issued a memo directing federal agencies to coordinate on securing 500 MHz of radio frequency spectrum for broadband. The memo endorses the Omnibus Broadband Initiative set forth in March by the Federal Communications Commission under Chairman Julius Genachowski. Obama first outlined the economic and social advancements he considers achievable through the establishment of a national wireless broadband network.

“Expanded wireless broadband access will trigger the creation of innovative new businesses, provide cost-effective connections in rural areas, increase productivity, improve public safety, and allow for the development of mobile telemedicine, telework, distance learning, and other new applications that will transform Americans’ lives,” the memo stated. It was directed to the Secretary of the Commerce Department, Gary Locke.

“To do so, we can use our American ingenuity to wring abundance from scarcity, by finding ways to use spectrum more efficiently,” the memo continued. “We can also unlock the value of otherwise underutilized spectrum and open new avenues for spectrum users to derive value through the development of advanced, situation-aware spectrum-sharing technologies.”

Several steps are outlined in the memo to secure the resources for a national wireless broadband network. It calls on the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to support the FCC’s broadband initiative by making 500 MHz of spectrum available over the next 10 years. The freed spectrum is to be suitable for mobile and fixed wireless broadband, and licensed by the FCC for exclusive use or for shared access with government users.

It directs the NTIA to work with the FCC to complete a “specific plan and timetable” by Oct. 1, 2010, for freeing up the spectrum. The FCC has already set up an action agenda of 60 proceedings to free up spectrum. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to reclaim 120 MHz of broadcast spectrum is due out in the third quarter.

The President’s memo sets up a Policy and Plans Steering Group of federal agencies that use spectrum. The Secretaries of Defense, Treasury, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, Energy and Homeland Security; NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Attorney General, the Coast Guard and the Director of National Intelligence will be represented in the group advising the NTIA on spectrum reallocation.

The NTIA will also work with Defense, Justice, NASA, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology on spectrum-sharing technologies. The FCC is “strongly encouraged” to participate with regard to the reallocation of “nonfederal government spectrum.”

A progress report will be due from the NTIA next March, another in the fall, and annually thereafter.

Lawrence Summers, director of the National Economic Council, is delivering an address this morning in Washington on establishing a national broadband network.
-- Deborah D. McAdams

Summers' speech is covered at“Summers Emphasizes Voluntary Return of Broadcast Spectrum”
The government does not intend to force broadcasters to turn over spectrum for the National Broadband Plan. It will look for available spectrum among government users as well as authorize a spectrum inventory.

See the full text of the presidential memo at...Obama’s Memo to Free 500 MHz for Broadband