Legislation Would Reallocate Spectrum

More bandwidth eyed for wireless services, public; military proponents wary.

Proposed government legislation regarding spectrum allocation is drawing support from federal departments and commercial wireless agencies, but concerns remain about whether the bills adequately protect the military.

Sponsored earlier this month by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act would create a fund to relocate military and other government agencies from commercially valuable spectrum bands to other bands.

The Bush administration last July announced plans to free 90MHz of spectrum for commercial wireless services, 45MHz of which is occupied by the military. Under those plans, the Department of Defense has until 2008 to relocate its systems in the 1710MHz to 1755MHz band. As things stand, auction winners are largely responsible for relocation costs, but current legislation offers no set rules for relocation reimbursement.

Uptons bill, H.R. 1320, would fix that, he said. The fund would come directly from commercial auction proceeds, and reallocation payments would be drawn directly from that fund.

"This is good news for the private sector, which craves certainty in the process, and the consumer, who craves the benefits that new services enabled by additional spectrum will afford them," Upton said at a meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet last week."This is good news for government agencies, who know that they will be made whole when they relocate to comparable spectrum."

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., proposed additional legislation that would establish more unlicensed spectrum for the general public.

Markey also proposed an additional telecommunications trust fund to support education technology grants, which would come from surplus auction money.

"Many entrepreneurs have driven information in recent months with Wi-Fi and other technologies," Markey said.

Digital Promise Project Co-chairman and former NBC News President Lawrence Grossman pleaded for the education fund, maintaining that "if we do not invest heavily and wisely, America will be incapable of maintaining its global position."

Industry experts agreed that new spectrum legislation is overdue.

"The process is a black hole, filled with uncertainty, punctuated by unknown costs and bereft of predictability," said Steven Berry, senior vice president for government affairs at the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, in Washington.

However, military proponents are still concerned that the government is not addressing the needs of the DOD, which has no desire to relocate but has determined that the proposed legislation is its best bet for ensuring that it has access to spectrum in the future.

"This wasnt our first choice," said Steven Price, deputy assistant secretary of defense for spectrum; space; sensors; and command, control and communications.

"I would make the point that as the DOD moves to network-centric operations, over time, the DOD believes well need more spectrum, not less," Price said.