The head of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Thursday that his agency has recommended that 115 megahertz of spectrum now controlled by some federal agencies be reallocated for commercial mobile broadband use.
During a speech at the Federal Communications Bar Association, NTIA Director Lawrence Strickling said the recommendation is included in a report for freeing up spectrum that is being reviewed by Obama administration officials. The plan is aimed at helping the administration meet a five-year goal, included in the FCC's national broadband plan, for freeing up 500 megahertz of spectrum for wireless broadband technologies.
Strickling said the report, which will provide more detail on freeing up spectrum to meet the administration's goal, is working its way through the interagency evaluation process and would be released "soon."
Of the spectrum recommended by NTIA for reallocation, 100 megahertz is held by the Department of Defense and used primarily for radar systems for naval vessels. The additional 15 megahertz recommended for reallocation is held by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and used for weather balloons and satellites. Strickling said the agency also examined another chunk of spectrum in the 1755 band that has been attractive to industry, but he said the spectrum is being used be several federal users and will need to be examined more closely to see if it can be reallocated for commercial use.
If the NTIA recommendations are accepted, it will be up to the FCC to implement them, Strickling noted.
Strickling acknowledged that the spectrum recommended for reallocation is not "prime real estate." He added that "when we can identify spectrum that is suitable for wireless broadband and made available with minimal disruption, we think it's important ... to put it into the bank so industry knows there will be spectrum available in the future."
After the speech, Strickling told reporters that "more and more" federal spectrum users will have to find new ways to share spectrum, saying the days when big chunks of prime spectrum could be auctioned off for commercial use are gone. He also stressed the need for research and development into ways to make better use of existing spectrum.
The drive for additional spectrum is being pushed by the growing consumer demand for new wireless devices such as smart phones, e-readers and tablet computers. The FCC released a report Thursday that found there will be a shortage of spectrum of as much as 300 megahertz in the next five years.
"Additional spectrum is not only essential for the wireless industry, it is vital in meeting the needs of hundreds of millions of wireless customers," AT&T Senior Vice President Robert Quinn said in a statement. "More wireless spectrum will also support economic growth and job creation at an important time."