Obama Signs Wireless Spectrum Initiative

Earlier today, President Barack Obama inked a memorandum designed to reportedly double the amount of available wireless spectrum, useable for mobile and fixed broadband applications, during the next 10 years.

The 500 megahertz of new spectrum, which will be gleaned from federal and non-federal sources, “must be available to be licensed by the FCC for exclusive use or made available for shared access by commercial and government users in order to enable licensed or unlicensed wireless broadband technologies to be deployed,” the memorandum said.

The spectrum most probably will be auctioned.

“The world is going wireless, and we must not fall behind. The resurgence of American productivity growth that started in the 1990s largely reflects investments by American companies, the public sector and citizens in the new communications technologies that are what we know today as the Internet,” the president said. “The Internet, as vital infrastructure, has become central to the daily economic life of almost every American by creating unprecedented opportunities for small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. We are now beginning the next transformation in information technology: the wireless broadband revolution.”

According to a statement send out by the White House press office, President Obama added. “Expanded wireless broadband access will trigger the creation of innovative new businesses, provide cost-effective connections in rural areas, increase productivity, improve public safety, and allow for the development of mobile telemedicine, telework, distance learning, and other new applications that will transform Americans’ lives.”

The memo immediately directs the Secretary of Commerce, working through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), to:

  • Collaborate with the FCC to come up with 500 megahertz of federal and nonfederal spectrum during the next decade to be licensed by the FCC for exclusive use or made available for shared access by commercial and government users to push the Administration’s broadband initiatives.
  • Work with the FCC to develop a “specific Plan and Timetable for identifying and making available” that spectrum by Oct. 1 and not forgetting “the need to ensure no loss of critical existing and planned Federal, State, local, and tribal government capabilities, the international implications, and the need for appropriate enforcement mechanisms and authorities.”

The president also asked for cooperation from the Secretaries of Defense, the Treasury, Transportation, State, the Interior, Agriculture, Energy, and Homeland Security; the Attorney General; NASA; the Federal Aviation Administration; the Director of National Intelligence; the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard; and “the head of any other executive department or agency that is currently authorized to use spectrum.”

Some 180 days after the initial plan is completed in October, an interim report will be sent to the National Economic Council, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy for a progress assessment. Additional interim reports shall be submitted 180 days after the submission of the first interim report and then annually until the 10-year time period has run its course.

In addition, the Commerce secretary has been asked to work through NTIA and in consultation with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, NASA and other appropriate agencies to “create and implement a plan to facilitate research, development, experimentation and testing by researchers to explore innovative spectrum-sharing technologies, including those that are secure and resilient.”

Industry reaction to the initiative has been trickling in.

“Broadband is about investment, innovation, jobs and opportunity; and spectrum is vital infrastructure for broadband. The Administration’s strong action today is a critical step toward ensuring that America will lead the world in mobile broadband,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski following the president’s announcement. “The initiatives endorsed today will spur economic growth, promote private investment, and drive U.S. global leadership in broadband innovation. Spectrum is the oxygen of wireless, and the future of our mobile economy depends on spectrum recovery and smart spectrum policies. As over 100 companies, representing billions in investment and millions of American jobs, told the FCC: ‘Our nation’s ability to lead the world in innovation and technology is threatened by the lack of sufficient spectrum for wireless broadband applications and services.’”

He continued, “The FCC’s National Broadband Plan laid out a strategy for unleashing 500 megahertz of spectrum for wireless broadband; enabling incentive auctions and market-based solutions for driving spectrum to its highest, best and most efficient use; promoting flexible and unlicensed spectrum use; and generating revenue to fund a world-class mobile broadband network for our nation’s emergency responders. Putting this plan into action requires exactly the kind of cross-government collaboration outlined by the Administration today. By taking these important steps, we can tackle the looming spectrum crunch, lead the world in mobile broadband, and drive our global competitiveness and innovative capacity. If we stand still, we run a real risk to our goals of supporting private investment and a thriving economy.”

Added Fred Campbell, president and CEO of the Wireless Communications Association International, “On behalf of the wireless broadband industry, I applaud President Obama for recognizing the importance of wireless broadband for today’s global economy and for his commitment to significantly increase the amount of commercial spectrum available for broadband over the next 10 years. The initiative is a critical step toward achieving universal broadband connectivity through the only broadband platform that is capable of providing access everywhere, all the time.”

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