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Deputy CTO Power, FCC's McDowell Spar, At a Distance, Over Spectrum Deputy CTO Power, FCC's McDowell Spar, At a Distance, Over Spectrum

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Congress

Deputy CTO Power, FCC's McDowell Spar, At a Distance, Over Spectrum

May 18, 2012

CORRECTED: The original post misspelled Tom Power's name.

Tom Power, the U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Telecommunications, agrees with critics who want to see federal agencies move faster in identifying spectrum to be turned over for use under the National Broadband Plan.

One of those critics is Robert McDowell, a Republican on the Federal Communications Commission. Friday on the C-Span program "The Communicators," McDowell suggested that the problem of the slow pace of federal spectrum givebacks could be solved with an executive order. McDowell was also dubious of the $18 billion figure that's been tossed around as the total cost of federal spectrum reallocation, suggesting that agencies might be hyping costs.

Part of the problem, Power said, is that the government is hamstrung in finding ways to create incentives for bureaucrats to relinquish spectrum - especially considering that some of those spectrum managers might innovate themselves out of a job by doing so. By contrast, Power observed, "Industry has the luxury of working in the free market."

Power didn't comment on whether the $18 billion figure was high, and said that in any event, the true cost would be scored by the Office of Management and Budget down the road.

The complexity of the federal piece of the plan to free up 500 megahertz of spectrum cannot be underestimated, Power said. As one example, he cited the problem of an orbital satellite with a fixed frequency assignment that might have a lifespan of as long as 30 years. "It's not as though you can send up a tech" to make a fix, he said.

That complexity was underscored in a Commerce Department report released in March on the viability of vacating federal frequencies in the 1755 - 1850 MHz swath of spectrum. It found that more than 20 agencies were operating in the band, with more than 3,100 frequency assignments. Some of the choicest spectrum is occupied by the military. The report indicated that many of these military uses could be moved to different bands, but the timetable set was about 10 years out.

The House bill funding the Defense Department could put teeth in this timetable. The Defense Department would be required to submit reports on military spectrum use to the Defense committees of both chambers, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the Senate Committee and Commerce, Science and Transportation. The report, due 270 days after the law is signed, puts the onus on the military to identify spectrum assignments that cannot be eliminated, moved or combined.

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