We've got to get moving: FCC commissioner vs. DoD on freeing up government spectrum

12 October 2012 by Steve Blum
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FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai wants government agencies to clear spectrum and auction it off to the mobile telecoms industry. Now. That puts him on a collision course with federal agencies, particularly the Departments of Commerce and Defense.

In his MobileCon keynote, Robert Wheeler, a USAF major general and DoD information infrastructure honcho, said that the current goal of freeing up 300 MHz of government spectrum for civilian use by 2015 and 500 MHz by 2015 is “tougher than you think” and said the people working on it are shifting focus to sharing rather than just clearing spectrum and auctioning it.

Pai doesn’t completely rule out sharing, saying “it can be a useful tool,” but it’s not a solution that will address the spectrum shortage that’s holding back private sector wireless broadband deployment.

“For goals that incentivizes investments in mobile networks, nothing beats clearing,” he said.

He takes issue with the claim by the Department of Commerce that clearing off of the 1755 to 1780 MHz band will cost $18 billion, calling it “not verified.” Instead, he points to the potential of auctions generating revenue for the federal government, saying that auctioning that band could generate $20 billion or more.

Clearing will result in more competition, Pai believes, and calls sharing “untested.” Big carriers could handle the problem of coordinating with hundreds of federal users, but not newer and smaller entrants.

Goverment spectrum isn’t the only source of commercial broadband spectrum – Pai also sees potential in broadcast, AWS and WCS allocations. But it’s a prime target. “We should use every power we have” to reach the 500 MHz goal, he said. “We’ve got to get moving.”