Feds recommend opening up the nation’s airwaves for shared use

The President’s Council of Advisors on Policy and Technology wants the Obama administration to get aggressive about making more spectrum available for commercial use. It’s not only advising the government double to 1000 MHz the amount of federal spectrum being targeted for new mobile and wireless networks, but also to make a good portion of those airwaves shared.
Such a policy would allow federal agencies to keep using their airwaves, divvying up access at different times and places to commercial users. It’s an ambitious proposal, but it’s one carriers aren’t going to like very much. Carrier trade group CTIA has already expressed skepticism that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s proposal for shared spectrum would work. PCAST’s recommendations are far more sweeping. From the report, which you can find here (pdf):

In just two years, the astonishing growth of mobile information technology–exemplified by smartphones, tablets, and many other devices–has only made the demands on access to spectrum more urgent. This report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) responds to the challenges and opportunities that have arisen since your earlier Memorandum was issued. It concludes that the traditional practice of clearing government-held spectrum of Federal users and auctioning it for commercial use is not sustainable. In light of changes made possible by modern technology, we recommend that you issue a new Memorandum that states it is the policy of the U.S. government to share underutilized spectrum to the maximum extent consistent with the Federal mission, and requires the Secretary of Commerce to identify 1,000 MHz of Federal spectrum in which to implement shared-use spectrum pilot projects.

The clearing of government spectrum the report refers to is the old practice of removing incumbent government agencies from spectrum and then selling it in blocks to the highest bidding carrier, giving them exclusive rights to use it. Those auctions put billions upon billions of dollars in government coffers, so PCAST’s proposal won’t just encounter opposition for the mobile industry, but also from politicians.
Sharing could take the form of unlicensed airwaves such as those used by Wi-Fi or the proposed TV white spaces spectrum, or it could sold to operators as semi-exclusives licenses, allowing them sole access to the frequencies when and where government systems are offline. The former would raise no money, and the latter would raise only a fraction of the revenue of a full-bore auction.
It’s a bold and enlightened plan from the council, which in addition to many academics includes Google(s goog) chairman Eric Schmidt and Microsoft(s msft) chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie. But it’s also going to be a tough sell to both the wireless industry and Congress.
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