Government Officials Evaluate Spectrum Management at NTIA’s Spectrum Policy Symposium

On September 19, 2022, NTIA convened its fifth annual Spectrum Policy Symposium at which senior government officials from the Department of Commerce, NTIA, FCC, DoD, and other agencies spoke on U.S. spectrum management. Congressional members and Doreen Bogdan-Martin, ITU-D Director and candidate for Secretary-General of the ITU, also delivered remarks. A common theme across speakers: the need to collectively rethink existing spectrum management policies to enable continued innovation and the rapid deployment of communications services.    

Mid-Band Spectrum: Mid-band spectrum, which offers both coverage and capacity, continues to be top of mind. FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel noted the FCC’s recent auction of spectrum in the 2.5 GHz and 3.45 GHz bands and reiterated her call to look next at spectrum in the 7-16 GHz range. She also said that the FCC has shared a draft Notice of Inquiry with NTIA that would seek comment on repurposing spectrum in the 12.7 -13.25 GHz band for wireless use. The FCC is expected to vote on that item at its October open meeting. John Sherman, Chief Information Officer for DoD, said there may be ways to enable greater use of the 3.1-3.45 GHz band while safeguarding mission-critical defense systems. 

Spectrum Sharing Technologies: Government officials continued to point to spectrum sharing – rather than repurposing – as an avenue to maximize spectrum utilization. They stressed that government users rely on spectrum for military defense, public safety, weather prediction, scientific research, and more. They also rely on industry, which uses commercial spectrum to provide services to the government. The commercial sector, meanwhile, will require more spectrum to meet growing consumer connectivity needs and enable continued innovation, which drives the U.S. economy. Aside from the Citizens Broadband Radio Service model, which has been deployed in the 3.5 GHz band, speakers also expressed interest in the possibilities of Incumbent Informing Capability (IIC) for time-based spectrum sharing through an enhanced Spectrum Coordination System.

Infrastructure Investment: Speakers also stressed the role of infrastructure investment in spectrum policy. Outdated receivers can pose challenges for new spectrum uses in adjacent bands. Improving interference protection capabilities, speakers posited, could enable more intensive use of spectrum without jeopardizing incumbent operations in neighboring spectrum. The FCC is examining this issue in an ongoing proceeding (more on that here) and Chairwoman Rosenworcel emphasized the importance of continuing this work in her remarks.

Extending FCC Auction Authority: Chairwoman Rosenworcel reiterated her calls on Congress to extend the FCC’s auction authority, which is set to expire on September 30, 2022. Speakers raised different proposals for how future auction proceeds could be used. Several panelists suggested that Congress should consider authorizing the FCC to use auction proceeds to fund the adoption of modern technologies by incumbent operators. Chairwoman Rosenworcel suggested directing future auction funds to funding the nation’s transition to next-generation 911 services. Others expressed support for the direct appropriation of funding for implementing more efficient and secure communications infrastructure.

Enhanced Transparency and Coordination. There was widespread agreement on the need for more clarity around where, when, and how spectrum is used today. Absent such information, it is difficult to discern between actual and artificial spectrum scarcity and to maximize the effective use of spectrum. 

NTIA and the FCC earlier this year announced a new initiative to improve U.S. government coordination on spectrum management and, last month, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (summarized here) solidifying the agencies’ commitments. The agencies are also working to develop a National Spectrum Strategy for a coordinated approach to spectrum use and planning. These initiatives could help facilitate information sharing between the two agencies and establish a roadmap to meet current and future spectrum demands.

The Symposium underscored many of the challenges to using spectrum more efficiently, but it also teed up solutions. Working in good faith to develop and implement new spectrum management policies, speakers agreed, will support the continued operation and deployment of a variety of services while also creating opportunities for innovation.

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