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Obama directs agencies to move toward sharing spectrum

A presidential memo directs agencies to take new steps to share spectrum with commercial services

U.S. President Barack Obama has directed federal agencies to take new steps toward sharing their wireless spectrum with commercial operators, in an effort to meet growing demands for mobile data services.

Obama, in a memo published Friday, created a spectrum policy team to move agencies toward sharing spectrum, and he directed the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to publish a report detailing agency usage of spectrum that could be shared with commercial users.

Obama also directed the NTIA to create a pilot program to monitor spectrum use in real time in an effort to look for ways to more efficiently use spectrum, and he told agencies they must consider spectrum efficiency when buying new radio equipment.

While the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is looking to free up 500MHz of spectrum for commercial uses, more spectrum is needed, Obama said in the memo. With federal agencies holding a large amount of spectrum, sharing may be one way to get more spectrum in the hands of commercial users, the memo said.

"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," the memo said.

Trade group CTIA and some lawmakers have been skeptical about spectrum sharing, with some critics questioning whether it is now technically feasible.

But mobile operators Spring Nextel and T-Mobile USA, along with broadband provider Comcast, praised Obama's memo.

"Every day, consumers, businesses, and government are relying more and more on wireless broadband services," Vonya McCann, Sprint's senior vice president of government affairs, said in a statement. "A steady supply of new spectrum, along with continued improvements in technology and innovation, are key to providing those services. The steps taken today lay the groundwork for tomorrow's broadband future."

In the memo, Obama directed the spectrum task force to look for ways to give agencies incentives to give up or share their spectrum. He also called on NTIA to publish a list of federal test facilities available to commercial operators for researching and testing spectrum sharing technologies.

A separate report tracking the nation's broadband growth noted that the U.S. currently has one of the largest blocks of licensed spectrum available for mobile broadband. The U.S. currently has 608MHz available, with another 55MHz in the pipeline, not including spectrum that may be given up by television stations.

Only Germany, with 615MHz currently available, has more than the U.S. of nine countries highlighted in the report, "Four Years of Broadband Growth," by the White House Office of Science and Technology and the National Economic Council. France has 555MHz currently available, Japan has 500, the U.K. has 353, and China has 227, the report said.

Representatives of the U.S. mobile industry argue the country needs more spectrum because of the rapid growth in mobile data use inside its borders.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is [email protected]


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