The Washington Post

White House announces plan to free up government spectrum for consumer demand

The White House said Friday that it will explore ways that it can free wireless spectrum currently used for government purposes to meet consumer demands for mobile airwaves.

President Obama released a plan that calls on government agencies to explore how spectrum being used by federal agencies can be reallocated for use by private-sector companies in the future. The White House also announced that it is investing $100 million to fund research into technology that deals with spectrum sharing.

Obama said that “expanding the availability of spectrum for innovative and flexible commercial uses, including for broadband services, will further promote our nation’s economic development.”

“We must continue to make additional spectrum available as promptly as possible for the benefit of consumers and businesses,” he said.”

Obama has directed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Federal Communications Commission to issue a report within the year recommending the best ways to make spectrum sharing more effective. The report, he said, should also include implications that sharing spectrum may have on national security, law enforcement and other policy considerations.

Acting FCC chairman Mignon Clyburn said in a statement Friday that the memorandum will “enable us to meet the challenge of unleashing spectrum for commercial use while also ensuring more efficient use of spectrum.” She added that the plan will also give Americans “greater access to jobs, health care, education and more.” In a separate statement, NTIA administrator Lawrence E. Strickling said the plan will “encourage greater collaboration between industry and the government necessary to facilitate greater sharing of spectrum and ensure that agencies will utilize spectrum as efficiently as possible.”

Industry reaction to the announcement was swift and positive.

Vonya McCann, senior vice president of government affairs at Sprint, said Friday that Sprint welcomes the administration’s initiatives and said that “steps taken today lay the groundwork for tomorrow’s broadband future.” T-Mobile President and chief executive John Legere also applauded Obama’s efforts and said that the company looks forward to “working with the Administrations in the roll-out of today’s initiatives.”

Comcast Vice President for Government Communications Sena Fitzmaurice also hailed the announcement. “Spectrum sharing is the cornerstone of unlicensed services such as Wi-Fi,  and we look forward to working closely with federal agencies to realize the economic and social benefits that gigabit Wi-Fi can deliver,” she said.

In a statement of their own, Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said that they “welcome” the announcement, and will be looking more deeply at spectrum reform in a hearing later this month.

Growing adoption of mobile devices, the lawmakers noted, “will require getting carriers more spectrum, an essential economic resource for the 21st century.”

The White House also said that the NTIA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will be hosting a Spectrum Technology Day to showcase and educate the country about efforts to deal with demand for mobile airwaves.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.



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