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Sen. Snowe Digs Up 100 MHz of Unused Spectrum

WASHINGTON : Finish the outstanding spectrum issues before reallocating broadcast airwaves, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R.-Maine) suggested in a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

“While I don't disagree that all options should be on the table as the commission evaluates spectrum policy, it is imperative that the FCC first clear the table of outstanding spectrum-related items that have lingered at the commission before extensively exploring other avenues. Concluding these unresolved items could dictate what additional steps the FCC should investigate,” she wrote in the letter dated Jan. 5.

Snowe enumerated several open proceedings she said appeared “ready for prompt decisions that could enable the quick roll-out of significant additional spectrum.”

Among them, WCS, short-hand for a proceeding about rules for licensing satellite digital audio radio service, or SDARS, in the 2 GHz band. The proceeding is more than 10 years old, and nearly resolved last year, but no action was ultimately taken by the FCC.

Another, AWS-3, is 2 GHz spectrum dedicated to advanced wireless services five years ago. The FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on developing services in the band was issued in 2007 and raised a request to pair it with a swath of spectrum used by federal agencies. Snowe said to either pair it license it already.

Spectrum also remains unlicensed from the 700 MHz auctions of 2008. The D block, as it’s known, was set aside to create a public-private partnership, but no private enterprise stepped up.

“This nation has for too long lacked a nationwide public safety network so a decision by the commission is long overdue on what option-whether it’s re-auction, direct allocation, or some other solution-it believes will be most viable for resolving this deficiency,” Snowe said.

Yet another 70 MHz of spectrum in the 2 GHz band awaits FCC action. It was allocated in 2001 for eight new mobile satellite services. Six went south, the remaining two split 40 MHz and launched satellites but have yet to launch services. One is bankrupt. Snowe suggested reallocating this spectrum.

Three blocks of spectrum were allocated in the 1,900 MHz and 2 GHz bands six years ago for broadband and advanced wireless services. It has yet to be auctioned.

“To pursue what seems to be a predetermined path while proceedings such as these remain unresolved is somewhat concerning and possibly premature--mainly given the limited technical resources at the commission,” Snowe said. “The five proceedings that I’ve highlighted relate to spectrum that is currently unused or severely underutilized-approximately 100 MHz worth of spectrum.... concluding these proceedings would provide a much quicker time frame to rolling out additional spectrum for commercial wireless broadband services.”

Snowe also said a spectrum inventory would be “the necessary first step” to creating a policy framework. She is a sponsor of S.649, the “Radio Spectrum Inventory Act.”

“I am optimistic that or legislation will pass the Senate early this year,” she said. -- Deborah D. McAdams