White House will explore idea of sharing government spectrum

June 14, 2013

The White House ordered federal agencies to explore ways to release wireless spectrum used for government purposes to telecom companies struggling to keep up with consumer demands for mobile airwaves.

The administration’s announcement comes amid growing pressure from the telecommunications industry to address the finite supply of airwaves available for an ever-growing number of mobile devices, from smartphones and tablets to wearable technology that is expected to explode onto the market soon. It also follows the Federal Communications Commission’s decision in February to offer incentives to television and radio firms to auction off their spectrum holdings to mobile companies.

Obama’s plan also includes $100 million for research into technology that will make spectrum sharing efficient.

“Expanding the availability of spectrum for innovative and flexible commercial uses, including for broadband services, will further promote our nation’s economic development,” Obama said in a presidential memo. “We must continue to make additional spectrum available as promptly as possible for the benefit of consumers and businesses.”

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the FCC are to issue a report on the topic this year, including what implications that sharing spectrum might have on national security, law enforcement and other policy considerations.

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,” NTIA administrator Lawrence E. Strickling said in a statement.

Wireless carriers and broadband firms cheered the announcement.

“Spectrum sharing is the cornerstone of unlicensed services such as WiFi, and we look forward to working closely with federal agencies to realize the economic and social benefits that gigabit WiFi can deliver,” said Sena Fitzmaurice, Comcast’s vice president for government communication.

Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in a statement that they would be looking more closely at spectrum changes at a hearing this month. Growing adoption of mobile devices, they said, “will require getting carriers more spectrum, an essential economic resource for the 21st century.”

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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