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Administration Advances Wireless Spectrum for Economic Growth

President Obama today issued a Presidential Memorandum that builds on the Administration’s commitment to make additional spectrum available for wireless broadband to drive innovation, expand consumer services, and increase job creation and economic growth.  The memorandum establishes a set of measures that Federal agencies, in collaboration with industry and other stakeholders, will now take to more aggressively enhance spectrum efficiency and enable access to more spectrum for consumer services and applications. 

Many of the new measures are common-sense ways to improve spectrum efficiency.  Under the memorandum, an agency that requests a new spectrum assignment or that seeks to procure a spectrum-dependent system will have to document its consideration of alternative approaches and verify that it is pursuing the most spectrum-efficient method, in consideration of all relevant factors including cost and agency mission. 

Other aspects of the memorandum build on existing strategies, particularly with respect to advancing collaboration with the private sector and other stakeholders.   Since 2010 the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which manages Federal agency spectrum assignments, has been implementing the President’s directive to identify 500 megahertz of spectrum for wireless broadband by convening agency-industry working groups that are engaged in unprecedented discussions  aimed at increasing spectrum efficiency and providing access to certain federally assigned spectrum bands for consumer wireless broadband.  Today’s memorandum directs NTIA to expand that collaborative process to encompass additional bands.  Towards this end, NTIA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will develop policies and best practices to promote and facilitate greater collaboration among agencies, the private sector, and academia with respect to research, development, testing, and evaluation of spectrum-sharing technologies.   Helping accelerate the pace of technological change, the White House announced $100 million in upcoming and proposed Federal investments in public-private research and development of spectrum sharing and other advanced communications technologies. 

The memorandum also encourages the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in its role as steward of non-Federal spectrum, to continue its efforts to promote efficient, innovative, and flexible use of spectrum, including by imposing network build-out requirements or other conditions to guard against wasteful spectrum warehousing.  In addition, the memorandum strongly encourages the FCC to take steps to encourage improved performance of radio receivers, a largely-untapped avenue for increasing spectrum efficiency.

As NTIA continues to direct Federal spectrum policy, the memorandum establishes a White House-based Spectrum Policy Team to support NTIA and to report back to the President on implementation of the memorandum.  Among other things, the memorandum specifically directs the Team to assess the role of unlicensed devices and related spectrum policies.

Today’s announcement marks the latest step in the Administration’s spectrum agenda, following a previous Presidential Memorandum released in June 2010, the National Wireless Initiative featured in the President’s 2011 State of the Union Address, and the President’s call for spectrum legislation that was eventually enacted via the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.

The President’s agenda has also been informed by the groundbreaking July 2012 report,  Realizing the Full Potential of Government-Held Spectrum to Spur Economic Growth, by the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST).   That report significantly shifted the discussion within spectrum policy circles to place a much greater emphasis on spectrum sharing as a means of dealing with the finite nature of spectrum and the growing demands for spectrum among commercial and government users.  The steps outlined in today’s memorandum will directly support the technological advances called for by PCAST, as well as advances outlined in a new report, Four Years of Broadband Growth, released today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and National Economic Council..  NTIA and NIST look forward to hosting a Technology Day later this summer to showcase some of these advances.

We look forward to executing on today’s memorandum and related announcements that will add more spectrum fuel to the Nation’s fast-growing wireless broadband economy. 

Tom Power is U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Telecommunications. Lawrence E. Strickling is Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.