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1,500 MHz of Federal Spectrum To Be Evaluated for Broadband

The NTIA is in the process of figuring out what portion of federally occupied spectrum can be used for wireless broadband.

WASHINGTON: The Commerce Department has identified 1,500 MHz of federal spectrum to further evaluate for wireless broadband, while Congress considers legislation to reassign 120 MHz of broadcast TV spectrum for the same purpose. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration issued its Second Interim Progress Report on the 10-Year Plan and Timetable for coming up with 500 MHz of spectrum for the president’s National Broadband Plan.

The NBP calls for claiming 40 percent, or 120 MHz, of broadcast spectrum. Government agencies occupy several thousand MHz. The NTIA is in the process of figuring out what portion of federally occupied spectrum can be used for wireless broadband. In doing so, it must determine which agencies license the spectrum, for what purpose, and how feasible it is for them to move or share the airwaves.

Its second interim report highlights 1,473.9 MHz licensed by federal agencies in 11 “blocks,” between 406.1 MHz and 4.4 GHz. The total includes three blocks comprising 385 MHz that the NTIA put on “fast-track” evaluation last year. It determined that 115 MHz could be used for wireless broadband within five years, and the Federal Communications Commission is currently reviewing feedback on how that could be accomplished.

The NTIA’s second interim report focuses particularly on two consecutive blocks of spectrum comprising 95 MHz between 1,755 and 1,850 MHz. Sixteen federal agencies hold 3,000 frequency assignments in that band, including the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Interior, Justice, Housing and Veterans’ Affairs; the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, the Treasury, the Coast Guard the Post Office, the Capitol Police, the Office of Personnel Management and USAID. Uses include fixed-to-point microwave, military tactical radio relay, air combat training systems, law enforcement mobile video surveillance, HD video data links for space systems, land-mobile robotic video functions “such as explosive ordnance disposal,” electronic warfare and others.

Each of the agencies submitted reports to the NTIA on the estimated cost, timetables and prerequisites for relocating to other frequencies. The NTIA said it would summarize its analysis of those submissions in another report to be completed this fall.

In the meantime, Congress’s so-called “super committee,” charged with trimming $1.5 trillion from the federal deficit, is expected to authorize the FCC to hold TV spectrum incentive auctions. The intent is to get broadcasters to give up spectrum in return for a split of the proceeds from the auction of that spectrum. The commission can’t hold incentive auctions without an expressive directive from Congress. The super committee is also reported to be considering a proposal in the president’s jobs bill to impose $4.4 billion in spectrum fees–something broadcasters and wireless providers jointly oppose.

Spectrum incentive auctions and fees would yield about $15.8 billion for government coffers, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO estimates that the auction of 120 MHz itself will bring in $23.3 billion, while the fees would generate $4.4 billion from 2012 to 2021, bring total spectrum revenues to $27.7 billion. That figure would be offset by an estimated $11.9 billion necessary to compensate and relocate broadcasters, and assess the fees.

The super committee has until Thanksgiving to submit its recommendations to Congress, which in turn has until Dec. 23 to pass a budget bill to avoid across-the-board spending cuts.

~ Deborah D. McAdams, Television Broadcast