NTIA, Lawmakers, Discuss Spectrum Clearing, Sharing Incentives

A “good half” of the employees at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) spend all day on spectrum issues, according to new administrator David Redl. NTIA oversees government spectrum use. Their time is spent working on finding ways government spectrum can be used more efficiently — to find spectrum that can be shared among federal agencies and commercial licensees or given up for commercial use. That’s a prime administration goal as the wireless industry works to deploy 5G.

In his hearing debut, Redl explained to members of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, the context of NTIA’s announcement last week, that it has identified 100 MHz of spectrum (3450 to 3550 MHz) for potential wireless broadband use. It seeks incentives to government agencies to persuade them to clear spectrum.

The subcommittee is part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees NTIA and the FCC. Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), asked Redl why in its FY2019 budget request, NTIA asked for authority to negotiate leases for private spectrum. Redl, who worked for the committee for seven years before being named NTIA Administrator, called leases a tool. “We know clearing is the gold standard. But there are some bands where clearing won’t be an option,” because the cost to move incumbents off the band exceeds the potential revenue of licensing it for a new use. 

That’s where leases come into play, to provide an incentive for federal agencies to move to a different band, “in those areas we can’t clear, other efficiencies could be gained through leasing,” he said. NTIA would also like to make that money available as an incentive “so agencies don’t bear the risk of relocation upfront.”

The NTIA also asked for an additional $50 million in its budget request to use for broadband mapping. “Mapping efforts have in the past been undertaken by NTIA, but responsibility shifted to the FCC in 2014 when the funding lapsed,” said Walden. Lawmakers are working to get the additional funds approved.

The FCC last month rolled out improved maps, calling them a first step, Inside Towers reported. Walden asked Redl how more money would help NTIA update the maps showing where broadband access exists and where it does not. Critics noted the FCC’s maps have errors, like showing broadband access where it doesn’t really exist. Redl praised the FCC’s efforts and said the extra funding would go beyond the current Form 477 data, towards assessing the maps and determining “why they don’t line up.”

by Leslie Stimson, Washington Bureau Chief, Inside Towers

March 7, 2018


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