White House Wireless Plan Draws a Crowd

Support All Around for Spurring Government Spectrum Efficiency and Sharing

If the White House's goal with its new government spectrum proposal was to relieve broadband congestion, it actually contributed to it in the short term via email reactions to the announcement that came pouring in following the announcement early Friday.

The plan has a big role for the FCC, and acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn signaled she was ready for duty.

"I want to applaud President Obama for his leadership on this critical issue for our nation's economic growth and global competitiveness," she said. "Today's Presidential Memorandum will enable us to meet the challenge of unleashing spectrum for commercial use while also ensuring more efficient use of spectrum. Doing so means more opportunity for all Americans -- greater access to jobs, health care, education, and more. The FCC will continue to work closely with NTIA, other federal partners, and all stakeholders to achieve the goals set forth by the President in this memorandum."

"The President’s action today confirms and strengthens the efforts of NTIA, working with other federal agencies, to allocate 500 megahertz of spectrum by 2020 for wireless broadband services while balancing the spectrum needs of federal agencies," said NTIA chief Larry Strickling. "Spectrum is an important driver of economic growth and innovation. The Presidential Memorandum will encourage greater collaboration between industry and the government necessary to facilitate greater sharing of spectrum and ensure that agencies will utilize spectrum as efficiently as possible.”

The Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee overseeing communications said they were also pleased, and signaled they would hold a hearing later this month on government spectrum issues while praising private industry for its key role in the successes the president touted in a report on broadband improvements under his administration.

"We welcome today's announcement that the White House intends to focus more attention on the federal government's own use of spectrum," Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in a statement. They are the chairs of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Communications Subcommittee, respectively. "The nearly $80 billion a year that private sector cable, wireline and wireless companies have invested since 1996 spurred the remarkable broadband growth the administration also cataloged today in its report. But as the Internet goes mobile, further growth will require getting carriers more spectrum, an essential economic resource for the 21st century. Continuing its extensive work on spectrum reform and opportunities for job growth, the Energy and Commerce Committee is planning a hearing later this month to further its exploration of mutually beneficial methods to help agencies fulfill their missions while freeing spectrum to drive our country's prosperity."

Ranking House E&C member Henry Waxman added his support.

"I commend President Obama for issuing today's Presidential Memorandum directing federal agencies to enhance the efficiency of their use of spectrum and to eventually make more capacity available for consumer and business uses," he said. "The initiatives outlined in the Memorandum should generate ideas and solutions to provide federal users with better tools to fulfill their missions while ensuring our nation's long-term spectrum needs are met. I also appreciate the Obama Administration's continuing focus on making more spectrum available for wireless broadband and technological innovation..."

But Waxman suggested that legislation might still be needed to get federal agencies to give up spectrum. "While I look forward to the reports outlined in the Memorandum, I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to explore whether there may be additional incentives to encourage agencies to relinquish underutilized spectrum," he said.

"I applaud the White House’s initiative to encourage federal agencies to use spectrum more efficiently and transparently," said Sen. Mark Pryor (D-ARk.), chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee. "I hope this effort will lead to better collaboration between the public and private sectors, improved wireless services for customers, and increased economic growth."

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a former wireless executive himself, liked a lot of what he saw in the president's plan.

"I welcome the administration's initiatives and hope that the process outlined in the Presidential memo will be a step in the right direction," he said. "I have long called for a thorough inventory of all public spectrum assets in order to gauge usage and improve efficiency, and have been frustrated by how this debate has dragged out over the past four years. Federal agencies should have the spectrum they need to protect the public, but no one should be warehousing spectrum. I'm also glad to see the new Spectrum Policy Team will come up with recommendations for incentives for federal agencies, performance standards for receivers, and specific timelines for assessing current and future spectrum needs."

Rick Boucher, honorary chair of the Internet Innovation Alliance and former chairman of the House Communications Subcommittee, seemed sure it was a step in the right direction, but suggested more was needed. "For spectrum-strapped providers -- and the millions of customers they serve -- today's announcement is a great step toward keeping up with demand," he said. "But it's just that, a step. What is urgently needed is a concerted effort to have large swaths of government-owned and underutilized spectrum repurposed for commercial auction. Hopefully these new initiatives set us on a path to get there."

Given that the president's initiative includes investing $100 million in getting government to give up more spectrum for commercial wireless companies, those companies liked what they heard.

"Sprint appreciates the steps that President Obama and his Administration have taken today to help ensure that spectrum is used in the most efficient and effective ways possible," said Vonya B. McCann, senior VP of government affairs at Sprint. "Every day, consumers, businesses, and government are relying more and more on wireless broadband services. A steady supply of new spectrum, along with continued improvements in technology and innovation, are key to providing those services. The steps taken today lay the groundwork for tomorrow's broadband future. Sprint looks forward to participating in that future, and welcomes the Administration's initiatives to ensure that all wireless carriers have the opportunity to acquire critical spectrum to meet our customers' needs."

John Legere, president of T-Mobile U.S., also applauded the focus on mobile broadband and for what he called a "series of important initiatives aimed at freeing up government spectrum to meet growing consumer demand. We look forward to next steps and working with this Administration in the roll out of today's initiatives."

"Today's announcement by the White House is important not just for the initiatives it lays out, but for the clear policy direction it sets," said AT&T senior executive VP Jim Cicconi. "We commend the White House for recognizing the enormous progress in US broadband deployment, wireless in particular, and for their commitment to meet the need for more spectrum so these investments can continue.  In addition, the new White House report, 'Four Years of Broadband Growth,' demonstrates factually the dramatic pace of broadband investment that is helping transform America- a success story that is undeniable, compelling, and continuing." Cicconi said AT&T has invested almost $80 billion on broadband in the past four years.  "And, with the promise of supportive government policies that encourage the construction of broadband infrastructure, we're prepared to continue investing over the next four years."

And the National Cable & Telecommunications Association said: "The efficient and expanded use of spectrum for unlicensed services is fundamental to the continued growth and innovation of our nation’s wireless ecosystem. Cable has invested heavily in unlicensed technologies, rapidly deploying over 150,000 public WiFi hotspots throughout the country providing Internet access to consumers when they are on the go. We appreciate the President’s direction to Federal agencies to work with commercial stakeholders on spectrum sharing and other collaborative means of bringing additional licensed and unlicensed spectrum to market.

“The President noted the exceptional progress our industry has made in expanding the capability of broadband networks, saying that more than 80% of U.S. homes now have access to next-generation, high-speed broadband. As the nation’s leading broadband provider, cable has injected massive amounts of capital – over $200 billion since 1996 – to build a powerful network that is available to 93 percent of U.S. homes.  The industry has also dedicated substantial resources to improving digital literacy and broadband adoption through groundbreaking programs with non-profit partners like Connect2Compete.

“We look forward to continuing our working alongside the Administration on these critical issues.”