Wireless Spectrum: Obama Tells Agencies to Share their Blocks
As the burgeoning usage of smartphones and tablets continues to tax the airwaves and eat up available wireless broadband, the need for additional wireless spectrum becomes increasingly more evident. Even the White House recognizes that action must be taken to ensure that America’s broadband networks are future-proofed and to encourage unrelenting wireless innovation. To that effect, Obama has reminded federal agencies (in the form of a directive) to apply a lesson oft-taught on Sesame Street—sharing.
Upping the Spectrum Ante
On Friday, in a memorandum addressed to the heads of executive departments and agencies, President Obama commended federal agencies for their cooperation so far in freeing up government-allocated blocks of the wireless spectrum for broadband usage, but acknowledged that further measures are necessary.
“Although existing efforts will almost double the amount of spectrum available for wireless broadband, we must make available even more spectrum and create new avenues for wireless innovation,” the President’s memo reads. And that’s exactly what Internet providers and wireless carriers have been trying to say for years. The rate at which data consumption is increasing (largely due to online video) threatens to exceed the capabilities of our existing networks if we aren’t actively expanding them.
The memo from President Obama went on to provide detailed steps for achieving optimal spectrum distribution, beginning with the formation of a Spectrum Policy Team to collaborate with the NTIA and FCC in implementing the new protocols. The White House has not yet commented on the possibility of developing a TV show about the new agency (SPT: Spectrum Victims Unit) or whether NTIA: Los Angeles will be involved.
Several bullet points of the executive order addressed the efficiency of spectrum usage within federal agencies, and directed them to assess and revise their practices. If the agencies can reduce their spectrum footprint, then the excess can potentially be released for commercial use without jeopardizing government systems and programs. The SPT, NTIA, and FCC will help to keep the agencies accountable in this, as well as providing them with incentive to maximize their efficiency.
In addition to encouraging the release of spectrum that can be spared, the White House memo instructs recipients to determine methods for eventually sharing airwaves with the private sector. Until now, federal agencies have avoided spectrum-sharing solutions, preferring to have dedicated airwaves for governmental uses, citing their priority. But the demand for spectrum is just too high to rule out the option of sharing. To do it successfully, however, new technology will be necessary, so the White House has pledged a $100 million investment into communications technology for spectrum sharing, and encourages the FCC to create a special radio receiver development program for the same purpose.
“Where technically and economically feasible, sharing can and should be used to enhance efficiency among all users,” said Obama in the memo. Ernie would be proud.