President's Advisory Council Pushes Government Spectrum Sharing


As expected, the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology's spectrum report released Friday concludes that "the traditional practice of clearing and reallocating portions of the spectrum used by Federal agencies is not a sustainable model for spectrum policy."

Council members include Google's Eric Schmidt and Microsoft's Craig Mundie.

Instead it calls on the government to find a whopping 1,000 MHz of federal spectrum to make part of a shared spectrum "superhighway." It also recommends creating a Federal Spectrum Access System as a clearinghouse for "band-by-band registration and conditions" for access to that spectrum by industry players, establishing spectrum management methodologies that take into account both the transmitter and receiver portions of the equation, and giving federal agencies incentives to share their spectrum.

FCC Office of Engineering and Technology Bureau chief Julie Knapp had signaled Thursday that was likely to be the case, and FCC chairman Julius Genachowski at the same public meeting made it clear he believed sharing and clearing would both have to be part of the equation.

The report clearly put its thumb on the scale for sharing. "The best way to increase capacity is to leverage new technologies that enable larger blocks of spectrum to be shared," said the White House in a report summary.

On Thursday, FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the government should consider providing carrots for federal spectrum users in terms of letting them share in the proceeds from their relinquished spectrum, just as commercial broadcasters.

The council agrees, suggesting a "spectrum currency" system of incentives to reward agencies that agree to share.

The report predicts it will take two or three decades to transform the federal spectrum regime, but two or three years to start the process, which it says will yield rapid results.

The report was greeted with plenty of comment from various quarters, including the FCC, which will have to work with the National Telecommunications & Information Administration to implement many of the proposals.

Commissioner Pai was concerned about the emphasis on sharing. "I have serious concerns about the report's apparent dismissal of clearing and reallocating federal spectrum for commercial use," he said in a statement.

"To be sure, geographic spectrum sharing has its place -- all reasonable means of making more spectrum available for commercial use do. But I continue to believe that clearing federal spectrum bands and reallocating them for exclusive commercial use is a critical component of any sensible spectrum strategy."

The Wireless Innovation Alliance was more sanguine. "WIA applauds today's PCAST report for its innovative and forward-thinking approach to U.S. spectrum policy, including its unambiguous endorsement of spectrum sharing," said the group. "WIA has been a longtime advocate of the more efficient and shared use of underutilized spectrum, and today's report demonstrates that the use of database coordination can greatly improve the way we allocate the use of this scarce public resource. It is important for the government to promote such dynamic band-sharing approaches at the same time that it pursues more short-term and limited opportunities to clear and auction certain federal bands."

"We are pleased that the PCAST report echoes so many of the conclusions and recommendations urged by Public Knowledge over the last three years," said Public Knowledge senior vice presiden Harold Feld. "The path to sustainable spectrum growth must take advantage of our power to innovate and our leadership in open spectrum technologies such as Wi-Fi and Super Wi-Fi. For too long, policymakers and industry lobbyists have quarreled over whether to embrace more exclusive licensing or spectrum sharing as if a gain for one means a loss for the other. We are happy the PCAST report rejects this false choice that has deadlocked our spectrum policy for too long. By embracing sharing while continuing to find clearable spectrum for auction, we can not only ensure an endless supply of cat videos for our smart phones, but also provide enough open spectrum for technological innovation, job creation, and lower connection prices for consumers."

"The release of PCAST's report on government-held spectrum is forward-thinking and provides policymakers with a framework that embraces spectrum sharing, incentivizes Federal agency buy-in, builds on existing technologies, and proposes a new hierarchy for how spectrum is used," said Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Communications Subcommittee.