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Posted at 5:10 PM ET, 01/31/2011

Obama administration looks to Defense Department airwaves for commercial use

By Cecilia Kang

In its quest to make more airwaves available for consumer wireless devices, the Obama administration said Monday it is evaluating a chunk of spectrum currently being used by the Defense Department and federal law enforcement for possible commercial uses.

The Nation Telecommunications and Information Administration said the swath of airwaves, totaling 95 megahertz in the 1755 to 1850 band, will be evaluated for its technical properties and costs to repurpose into commercial mobile broadband networks.

The move is part of the White House's push to free up more public and other airwaves -- such as those held by television broadcasters -- to be used for a next generation of smart phones, tablets, appliances and Internet-connected machines.

Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Lawrence Strickling, said the NTIA and Federal Communications Commission will work together to evaluate the airwaves currently being used for satellite, surveillance, and aeronautical operations. The agency plans to compete the analysis by Sept. 30, 2011.

In all, the FCC and White House have proposed to free up 500 megahertz of airwaves over the next decade and have warned of a spectrum crunch that will bring cellular networks to a crash if the pace of wireless Internet growth continues.

Broadcast spectrum is being eyed in that goal, with about 120 megahertz that could be converted to commercial wireless networks through voluntary auctions. The idea is for television stations to get a cut of proceeds raised from spectrum auctions.

But some broadcasters and analysts have questioned warnings of a spectrum crunch. They say wireless providers such as AT&T are sitting on airwaves they bought in recent years and haven't converted into mobile networks. Trade group, the National Association of Broadcasters, wrote a letter on Monday to Senate and House leading commerce committee members pointing to a report that Time Warner Cable was "warehousing" spectrum, or sitting on airwaves, that could be used for consumers.

"If there truly is a spectrum crisis, then allowing companies the size of Time Warner to hoard airwaves should not be permitted," NAB president Gordon Smith wrote in the letter.

Wireless industry trade group, CTIA, shot back, saying in a press release. It said the broadcast industry will benefit from voluntary auctions and so will the U.S. Treasury, which will get money from commercial auctions.

"U.S. has a wireless penetration rate of 93 percent versus the broadcasters who only serve about 10 percent of the U.S. population over the air, we see this as a great opportunity for broadcasters who are literally sitting on more than 100 megahertz of unused spectrum to contribute their spectrum and get compensate," said CTIA President Steve Largent.

Related Stories:
FCC grants LightSquared approval of satellite airwaves for cell phones

White House moves to give more airwaves to public safety responders

FCC, broadcasters set for showdown on airwaves for cell phones

By Cecilia Kang  | January 31, 2011; 5:10 PM ET
Categories:  FCC  
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