- On November 13, the Biden administration released its National Spectrum Strategy through a Presidential Memorandum.
- The Spectrum Strategy, seeking to modernize spectrum policy and coordination and identify spectrum that can be more intensively used, was developed by NTIA, collaborating closely with the FCC.
- The Spectrum Strategy outlines four strategic pillars designed to improve spectrum allocation and spectrum management by our government through technological innovation, workforce development and research on efficient spectrum use. Of particular note, the Spectrum Strategy does not propose the reallocation of any specific frequency bands for new or expanded use, and instead identifies certain bands for further study.
- The Spectrum Strategy is likely to be used as a political vehicle by both parties, as evidenced by early reactions from FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who renewed calls for the FCC’s auction authority, and senior Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr who would like to see more concrete movement to make spectrum available.
Background on the Spectrum Strategy
President Biden released a Presidential Memorandum on November 13 titled “Modernizing United States Spectrum Policy and Establishing a National Spectrum Strategy” (the Spectrum Strategy). Publication of the Spectrum Strategy comes after many months of coordination with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or the Commission), public listening sessions, Tribal Nation consultations, meetings with stakeholders, consideration of written comments and guidance from federal agencies, and government-only listening sessions. The National Telecommunications Information Administration’s (NTIA) broad outreach shaped the goals of the Spectrum Strategy, which is aimed at modernizing spectrum policy and management, and driving innovation in spectrum usage.
The Presidential Memorandum itself (1) reaffirms the joint management of spectrum resources by NTIA and the FCC, with NTIA serving as the President’s principal advisor on spectrum issues; (2) announces the Interagency Spectrum Advisory Council as a forum for various agency leaders to work with NTIA on spectrum policy; (3) develops a White House dispute resolution process to resolve issues between NTIA and other agencies with respect to spectrum issues; and (4) requires publication of principles and methods on spectrum management that will guide the federal government.
Most importantly, the memorandum also obligates the Secretary of Commerce, through NTIA, to prepare the Spectrum Strategy to modernize U.S. spectrum policy and enhance spectrum policy coordination among federal agencies. The Spectrum Strategy notes that wireless services have become essential for the connectedness of American citizens, and have also become integral for public safety, medical care, education, multi-modal transportation and industrial operations. Critical U.S. services depend on spectrum access. The Spectrum Strategy notes in bold font that “America’s security, safety, technological leadership, and economic growth depend, in no small measure, on sufficient access to spectrum.” For all these reasons, the administration must chart a path that will satisfy current and future spectrum needs. Dynamic spectrum sharing is mentioned throughout the Spectrum Strategy as a technology that can aid access to spectrum.
The Spectrum Strategy’s Four Pillars
NTIA organizes the Spectrum Strategy by outlining four pillars of essential actions for spectrum policy that must not limit either the FCC’s statutorily mandated role as the independent agency for regulating non-federal spectrum use or NTIA’s statutory role as the sole agency authorizing federal spectrum use:
Pillar 1: A Spectrum Pipeline to Ensure U.S. Leadership in Advanced and Emerging Technologies
To create the spectrum pipeline, this pillar supports NTIA engaging in an in-depth study, within two years, of 2,786 MHz of spectrum for possible repurposing in the 3.1-3.45 GHz, 5.03-5.091 GHz, 7.125-8.4 GHz, 18.1-18.6 GHz, and 37.0-37.6 GHz bands. The proposed studies will encompass the following areas:
- 3.1-3.45 GHz – This study essentially repeats a recent Department of Defense (DoD) study focused on allocating certain military frequencies to the telecommunications industry. While DoD indicated that sharing is feasible if there are certain mitigation features to prevent harmful interference and coordination to facilitate spectrum sharing, the redux indicates that administration officials are possibly dissatisfied with the results of the previous study, with some officials expressing a “broad belief” that more can be done to open up the band. The Department of Commerce will co-lead with DoD any additional studies to explore dynamic spectrum sharing and private-sector access to this band, with a focus on ensuring DoD mission capabilities are maintained.
- 5.03-5.091 GHz – In light of expected FCC near-term action to facilitate limited deployment of wireless communications for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the 5.03-5.091 GHz band, this study will assess optimal UAS spectrum access in the band while preventing harmful interference to existing protected operations in the band.
- 7.125-8.4 GHz – This band will be studied for wireless broadband use on a licensed and/or unlicensed basis. The study will have to assess the mission-critical federal operations in this band (including Fixed and Mobile Satellite operations) to ensure any potential repurposing of the band does not cause harmful interference.
- 18.1-18.6 GHz – This study will assess whether the band can be used for expanded federal and non-federal satellite operations, which would add space-to-space allocations to this band. The band already supports authorized Fixed Satellite Service downlink operations, as well as non-federal Fixed Service operations in the 18.1-18.3 GHz segment of the band.
- 37.0-37.6 GHz – Based on prior collaboration between NTIA, DoD and the FCC, this study will determine whether the band can support a co-equal, shared-use framework that allows federal and non-federal users to operate in the band.
Neither this pillar nor any other requires reallocation, or identifies for likely reallocation, any particular spectrum band. NTIA will seek input from relevant stakeholders, use data-driven processes for long-term spectrum planning and leverage government-recommended best practices to transition spectrum bands that are identified to be repurposed.
Pillar 2: Collaborative Long-Term Planning to Support the Nation’s Evolving Spectrum Needs
This pillar aims to create a process for long-term spectrum allocation decision-making—a “national spectrum planning process”—that involves broad input from various private stakeholders and government agencies that require spectrum to deliver essential products and services. The Spectrum Strategy encourages the development of a framework for interagency coordination with external industry stakeholders to determine spectrum allocation. This pillar also supports using value-based models, which calculate the societal value of a given spectrum usage to Americans, quantifying the benefits of various spectrum allocation proposals. An evidence-focused approach and interagency coordination is intended to ensure transparency in spectrum allocation decision-making.
Pillar 3: Unprecedented Spectrum Innovation, Access and Management Through Technology Development
This pillar encourages spectrum use innovation and technology development to support the United States’ spectrum leadership. NTIA will engage in a “moonshot” effort spanning the next 12-18 months to advance spectrum access by creating spectrum testbeds, facilitating the publication of a national spectrum research and development plan, and supporting private sector research and development. Stated priorities in this area include investments in new and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, additional research to understand how technologies can support streamlined spectrum access and sharing, improved receiver performance, research regarding different approaches to spectrum sharing, investments in research and development to better understand spectrum characteristics, and identification of opportunities to expand spectrum access such that it benefits all Americans.
Pillar 4: Expanded Spectrum Expertise and Elevated National Awareness
This pillar seeks to “foster spectrum expertise and awareness” by creating a National Spectrum Workforce Plan that can support development of a modernized, skilled and diverse workforce intended to fill the operational, technical and policy roles in the spectrum ecosystem. The Spectrum Strategy also outlines an initiative to educate policy-makers and the public regarding spectrum decisions and considerations, as well as the role spectrum has in everyday life.
The Spectrum Strategy seeks to streamline and modernize the allocation of spectrum, which has been and will continue to be highly impactful for the American public. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr has already expressed frustration with the Spectrum Strategy, because it does not actually free up spectrum today, merely authorizing the study of bands to be potentially opened in the future. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel notes that the success of the Spectrum Strategy depends on Congressional restoration of the FCC’s auction authority, which lapsed earlier this year. Reestablishing spectrum auction authority is fundamental to bringing any spectrum to commercial markets.
Following publication of the long-awaited Spectrum Strategy, NTIA will now work with the FCC and other federal agencies to prepare and publish an Implementation Plan within 120 days. The plan will align specific outcomes to the strategic objectives in the four pillars, assigning responsible parties and anticipated timelines for each outcome. Work on the Implementation Plan will focus on a number of principles, including the following:
- Supporting commercial innovation by identifying government spectrum bands that can be repurposed.
- Prioritizing data-driven processes to facilitate long-term spectrum planning and spectrum usage transparency.
- Implementing technological advances to enable spectrum access and supporting research and development of technological advances in spectrum management.
- Accounting for critical and essential spectrum access needs, such as national security initiatives.
- Exploring different spectrum governance models.
- Ensuring efficient spectrum usage by presenting recommendations for scalable spectrum access for the federal government.