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Obama Spectrum Directive Calls for Receiver Standards

WASHINGTON—President Obama is ordering spectrum licensees to share and to build receivers that don’t inhibit their radio-frequency neighbors. The president on Friday issued a memo directing federal agencies to use spectrum more efficiently by increasing collaboration and exploring spectrum sharing among both government and private users.

“Where technically and economically feasible, sharing can and should be used to enhance efficiency among all users and expedite commercial access to additional spectrum bands, subject to adequate interference protection for federal users, especially users with national security, law enforcement, and safety-of-life responsibilities,” the memo stated. “We should also seek to eliminate restrictions on commercial carriers’ ability to negotiate sharing arrangements with agencies,” he said.

Receiver performance was addressed in the memo, which “strongly encouraged” the Federal Communications Commission “to develop to the fullest extent of its legal authority a program of performance criteria, ratings, and other measures, including standards, to encourage the design, manufacture, and sale of radio receivers such that emission levels resulting from reasonable use of adjacent spectrum will not endanger the functioning of the receiver or seriously degrade, obstruct, or repeatedly interrupt the operations of the receiver.”

The language openly reflects the circumstances that deep-sixed LightSquared, the hedge fund-backed startup hoping to launch 4G LTE broadband in spectrum designated for satellite communications. The transmissions would have interfered with global positioning systems, which were not robust enough to reject the undesired signals.

“In developing such a program, the FCC is strongly encouraged to give due consideration to existing policies and prudent investments that have been previously made in systems, including receivers,” the memo continues, all but mentioning LightSquared. “In its consultation with the FCC, [the National Telecommunications and Information Administration] shall provide information regarding federal receiver standards and agency practices under those standards.”

The FCC is now attempting to address receiver performance through a proceeding on “harm-claim thresholds”—power levels at which interference complaints could be lodged. The commission received just one comment on the proposal in the seven weeks since it opened the docket and recently extended the input period. (See “FCC Seeks More Info on Receiver Performance Policy.”)

Obama’s memo laid out an oversight structure for its directives in the form of a Spectrum Policy Team comprised of members from several government agencies. Among those directives—the NTIA’s effort to identify collaborative spectrum opportunities will be extended into frequencies up to 6 GHz.

Also, the Commerce Department, where the NTIA resides, is directed to provide an inventory of federal test facilities for commercial and other stakeholders within three months; and present standards and practices for research, testing and evaluation of spectrum-sharing technologies at those facilities within six months. The Spectrum Policy Team is to come up the correlative security-clearance policy, also within six months.

The memo calls for the NTIA to provide “quantitative assessments of the actual usage” of spectrum it previously identified as having the greatest potential for sharing with private users. The agency is directed to develop pilot programs in select communities to “monitor spectrum usage in real time… to determine whether a comprehensive monitoring program in major metropolitan areas could disclose opportunities for more efficient spectrum access, including via sharing.”

In addition to oversight, the Spectrum Policy Team is charged with identifying market-based or other incentives to get users to share or even give up spectrum, and to submit their findings to the president in six months.

Although not included in the memo, the president’s initiative includes $100 million in grant monies to fund spectrum-sharing research, as reported June 13 in B&Cby John Eggerton, who broke the news of Obama’s directive.

image by Antone Taveneaux