This story originally appeared in TV Technology
A March 27 press release from NTIA begins "The U.S. Department of Commerce, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), today announced its finding that 95 megahertz (MHz) of prime spectrum could be repurposed for wireless broadband use."
As usual, the devil is in the details.
To understand where that 95 MHz of "prime spectrum" is coming from, you have to read the 155 page NTIA report titled An Assessment of the Viability of Accommodating Wireless Broadband in the 1755-1850 MHz Band.
As it turns out, 85 MHz of that spectrum is coming from relocating DOD operations to bands including 2025-2110 MHz--the entire 2 GHz BAS band.
NTIA says the Department of Defense (DOD) would need primary access to this spectrum, and in the document's Table 4-3 notes, "Electronic News Gathering (ENG) would need to relocate to a different band or must operate on a non-interference basis."
Considering the wide range of uses NTIA has targeted for the 2 GHz BAS band--Military Tactical Radio Relay; Air Combat Training Systems; Precision Guided Munitions; Law Enforcement Mobile Video Surveillance Applications; High-Resolution Video Data Links for Surveillance; Tracking, Telemetry and Commanding for Federal Space Systems; Air-to-Ground Telemetry; Land Mobile Robotic Video Functions; and UAS, UAV, RPV--it appears there would be few locations where ENG could operate on a non-interference basis.
Does NTIA actually think this could work?
Perhaps not. The press release cautions, "In addition, NTIA's analysis of the cost of a complete relocation raises questions as to whether the proceeds from auctioning the 1755-1850 MHz band for commercial use will exceed federal relocation costs, as required by law. Moreover, some of the federal systems in this band may require more than a decade to relocate, which could further complicate deployment of commercial services."
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, issued a statement that echos this concern, "NTIA's report demonstrates both the importance of making government spectrum available for commercial mobile broadband, and the challenges in doing so. This is particularly true when considering the full 1755-1850 MHz band, where repurposing of the entire band would be very expensive, would affect important federal uses and commercial broadcast services, and could take a decade or more to accomplish. As federal law requires that revenue from auctioning federal spectrum exceed the relocation costs, these are serious issues and potential obstacles."
FCC Chairman Genachowski said, "The lower 25 megahertz in the 1755-1780 MHz band, where there appears to be a viable path forward for mobile broadband, presents a near-term opportunity to free up spectrum that can help drive U.S. economic growth and our global competitiveness."
The NTIA report is not as optimistic.
It states that Navy and Marine Corps Tactical Radio Relay systems would not be able to vacate the 1755-1780 MHz band within five years without an "unacceptable operational impact" and that exclusion zones would be required around bases in North Carolina, Florida, Hawaii, California, and Guam.
It added that "if congestion or other reasons prevent access to enough frequencies in the 2025-2110 MHz and 2200-2290 MHz bands, there may be a need for the Army HCLOS (AN/GRC-245) radio to operate within the 4400-4940 MHz band, which will require modification to the radio."
After reading the NTIA Report, the obvious question is why go through the expense and cost of relocating military operations to other bands when the bands these operations would be moving to--including the 2 GHz BAS band--could be auctioned directly to wireless services with the NTIA spectrum left untouched?
It seems like a spectrum shell game to me, with broadcasters and existing 2 GHz users coming out the losers. NTIA is offering 95 MHz of spectrum for wireless broadband at the same time it's asking for the entire 85 MHz of the 2 GHz BAS band, plus additional 2 GHz spectrum that total much more than 95 MHz. The cost of it moving to this expanded spectrum, some of which admittedly might be able to be shared, would have to be raised from the auction proceeds on its 1.8 GHz spectrum.
Could it be that NTIA DOD 1.8 GHz spectrum is more valuable than directly auctioning the 2 GHz BAS spectrum which, as broadcasters are learning, sits right in the middle of existing wireless broadband allocations (AWS, MSS, etc)?
I doubt it, which is why the plan, in spite of the hoopla about found spectrum for wireless broadband, makes no sense to me unless the real agenda is to clear broadcasters from the 2 GHz ENG band. Perhaps they assume TV news gathering won't exist in 10 years.
The NTIA report did not identify what frequencies broadcasters and cable news services could use to replace the 2 GHz ENG band. The 7 and 13 GHz BAS bands have already been opened for sharing by other fixed wireless services, likely wireless backhaul, and would not be a suitable replacement due to interference to these fixed links.
I hope I'm wrong.
There is hope, considering that the FCC has recognized the value of broadcasters' use of the 2 GHz band in the Nextel relocation, and has acknowledged that sharing would be difficult when it excluded the 2 GHz BAS band after opening the 7 and 13 GHz BAS bands for uses other than broadcast links or cable TV relays.
I don't think anyone, including the FCC, wants to go through another 2 GHz relocation.