Spectrum Released for Wireless Carriers

Under plan, DOD, other federal agencies must relocate to other bands.

The Bush administration last week announced plans to free 90MHz of spectrum for commercial wireless services—to the delight of wireless carriers and the lobbyists that support them.

Under the plan, half of the bandwidth will come from spectrum used by the Department of Defense, which now has until 2008 to relocate its systems in the 1710-1755MHz band to other bands, according to DOD officials.

Government sources said several agencies have been working to satisfy the spectrum needs of commercial and government parties. "Throughout the past year, an interagency working group with staff from the [Federal Communications Commission], [National Telecommunications and Information Administration], DOD, and other executive branch agencies has been working diligently to identify spectrum for advanced wireless services," said Michael Powell, chairman of the FCC, in a press statement. "The interagency effort examined existing federal operations in spectrum already earmarked for transfer to nonfederal use—specifically, the 1710-1755MHz band."

For the past year, carriers have been calling for the Pentagon to clear out space in three bands of spectrum for commercial services, including the 1755-1770 band. The Pentagon stuck to its guns and won the case that the 1755-1770MHz band is necessary for various military functions—including those that might be used for Un-manned Aerial Vehicle op- erations in Afghanistan.

"Because the plane is unmanned, it must be controlled and operated remotely," said Steven Price, deputy assistant secretary of defense for spectrum, space and sensors in a plea to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Energy and Transportation last month. "That means it is entirely dependent on spectrum, both for flight control and to pass along information. Without spectrum, [the plane] would, in aviator parlance, go stupid—it could neither fly nor be able to pass on information or images, which is its core function."

On the other hand, the commercial wireless industry has used the war against terrorism to argue that additional spectrum is necessary for the safety of consumers—citing the fact that most cell phone users had trouble getting signals following the attacks Sept. 11.

"This additional spectrum will help enable services that improve the quality of [consumers] lives," said Matthew Flanigan, president of the Telecommunications Industry Association, in Arlington, Va.

DOD officials said they were satisfied with the compromise decision but said moving out of the 1710-1755MHz band would require a relocation package from the government.

To that end, the Commerce Department last week sent legislation to Congress proposing a relocation trust fund for the DOD and other parties that will have to relocate to other spectrum bands.

Carriers applauded the decision.

"Todays action by the Bush administration is a welcome step in the long-term goal of making additional spectrum available to wireless consumers," said Denny Strigl, president and CEO of Verizon Wireless Inc., in Bedminster, N.J.

Strigl said the plan should allow for new spectrum auctions in the 2004-2005 time frame, although auction winners may not be able to use the spectrum before 2008.