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The NTIA-FCC MOU: What A New Era of Spectrum Coordination Will Look Like

September 13, 2022 by Charles Cooper, Associate Administrator, Office of Spectrum Management

The recent update of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and NTIA memorializes a shared commitment between the two agencies to renew a partnership critical to jointly managing the nation’s spectrum resources.   

Now the work begins to translate this agreement into consistent, meaningful practice. Given the scope of the document, there is quite a lot for the FCC and NTIA to do to fulfill the potential of the MOU.  

The agreement reflects the need for the two national spectrum managers to share information and communicate frequently and effectively. The agreement’s major provisions echo and anchor the goals of the Spectrum Coordination Initiative announced this past February.   

The MOU promotes:  

  • Evidence-based policy-making;  
  • More frequent and more effective communication;  
  • Long-range planning and sharing of information to coordinate proposals well in advance; and  
  • Development of a common approach for assessment and technical analysis of potential radio frequency interference issues.  

The MOU will increase the frequency of meetings between the agencies. The leadership will meet at least quarterly, and the staffs will meet monthly. The more frequent engagement will bring increased attention and consistency to interagency coordination. The meetings will provide avenues for each agency to bring forward and communicate their plans and strategies up to 12 months in advance. Agencies can clarify and align their goals, helping to mitigate last-minute disagreements over proposals and technical data.  

Increasing the MOU’s advance notification provision from 15 to 20 business days for consideration of proposals that might result in interference will help all parties. This allows for a more coordinated response among the federal agencies within the Executive Branch to FCC proposals – and vice-versa.  Ultimately, this increase in time should help the FCC as well because a well-reasoned federal response is always preferable to too little time for meaningful evaluation.   

The updated MOU also places a high priority on dispute resolution. The MOU sets the expectation that staff-level disagreements between the two agencies will be promptly raised to senior leadership at NTIA and the FCC.  The increased communication and planning should help thwart disputes before they reach a critical stage. 

NEXT WEEK: On Sept. 19, NTIA will host its fifth annual Spectrum Policy Symposium at the National Press Club, under the theme A New Era for U.S. Spectrum Management & Coordination

Separate from the MOU but consistent with one of its key objectives, NTIA is also working to file more public comments with the FCC. Submitting comments, letters, technical information and other materials in FCC proceedings allows NTIA to establish and transparently communicate the considered views of the Executive Branch for public inspection and reaction. This can help stakeholders identify potential issues early in the rulemaking process and work to resolve them as a proceeding moves along.   

One recent NTIA filing, for example, offered comments on the FCC’s Notice of Inquiry on offshore spectrum needs and uses. NTIA expressed support for FCC efforts to ensure sufficient spectrum for offshore operations — particularly offshore windfarms — while cautioning that many critical federal systems operate in the ocean or near coastal areas. NTIA also filed comments on a Notice of Inquiry on receiver performance. Our comments included detailed descriptions of many of the existing standards and requirements for receivers under federal control.   

Although the updated MOU was the product of a joint FCC-NTIA task force, many stakeholders contributed to its success – including Congress and the Government Accountability Office. The Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee also provided valuable guidance.  As a result, NTIA and the FCC have an opportunity to begin a new, sustainable era in our partnership as stewards of the nation’s spectrum resources.