Spectrum Regulators’ Effort to Work Together Wins Plaudits

  • FCC and NTIA to release strategy on spectrum management
  • NTIA head to testify before Congress Wednesday

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Industry and advocacy groups are welcoming a new effort to improve federal agencies’ widely criticized system to manage the wireless spectrum.

Lawmakers have called on federal agencies to reform how they manage spectrum, a finite resource that has led to clashes, including between the Federal Aviation Administration and mobile carriers seeking to roll out 5G networks using a portion of spectrum called the C-Band.

Jessica Rosenworcel, the chair of the Federal Communications Commission, and Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, on Tuesday said they would launch a spectrum coordination initiative, involving monthly high-level meetings and updating a memorandum of understanding dating back nearly 20 years.

“Nobody wants a repeat of the FAA/C-Band fight, and this looks like Rosenworcel and Davidson are moving fairly aggressively to prevent something like that from happening again,” said Harold Feld, a senior vice president at Public Knowledge, a telecommunications public interest group.

The announcement comes a day before Davidson is set to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on NTIA’s spectrum management and other issues.

Photographer: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Alan Davidson speaks during the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21, 2022.

The FCC is in charge of licensing commercial and noncommercial spectrum users. NTIA, part of the Commerce Department, manages and represents the federal government’s spectrum.

Meredith Attwell Baker, the CEO and president of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, said companies are “particularly encouraged” by the development of a national strategy. CTIA represents the U.S. wireless communications industry, such as AT&T Inc., T-Mobile US Inc., and Verizon Communications Inc.

The FCC and NTIA also said they would develop processes for “spectrum engineering compatibility analysis.” Conflicting engineering reports among federal agencies have led to disagreements about whether to allow spectrum usage because agencies use different standards to determine whether there is danger of harmful interference, Feld said.

The agencies also committed to revamping technical collaboration by participating in each others’ advisory groups as observers.

Feld said the announcement is “an important first step,” but agencies can’t solve the problem on their own.

“Only the President can require the other federal agencies to work collaboratively with NTIA and the FCC,” Feld said. More than 60 federal agencies and departments use spectrum, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee ranking member Bob Latta (R-Ohio) also welcomed the move but said more work was needed.

“As we work towards restoring trust in the spectrum management process, it is also necessary for the House Energy and Commerce Committee to continue pursuing public oversight hearings,” Latta said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maria Curi at mcuri@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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