White House panel calls for shared use of U.S. airwaves

Fri Jul 20, 2012 6:17pm EDT

* Panel says 1,000 MHz of spectrum should be found for mobile broadband

* Calls for shift in spectrum policy to more emphasis on sharing

* Wireless carriers say prefer full control of airwaves

By Jasmin Melvin

WASHINGTON, July 20 (Reuters) - The U.S. government should share some of its airwaves with wireless service providers to help them meet increasing demand for services such as mobile Web surfing, a White House advisory panel said on Friday.

The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology released a report calling for 1,000 megahertz of federal spectrum to be made available for a shared spectrum "superhighway," double the amount of airwaves the Obama administration said in 2010 should be freed up for mobile broadband.

The wireless industry is pushing for access to more airwaves because of the increasing popularity of bandwidth-hungry devices such as Apple Inc's iPhone and iPad as well as smartphones based on Google Inc's Android software.

"The norm for spectrum use should be sharing, not exclusivity," the report said.

The independent council of industry experts and academics concluded that the traditional practice of relocating government operations to alternative spectrum bands to make way for commercial uses was not sustainable.

"Spectrum should be managed not by fragmenting it into ever more finely divided exclusive frequency assignments, but by specifying large frequency bands that can accommodate a wide variety of compatible uses," the report said.

President Barack Obama endorsed a plan in 2010 requiring 500 megahertz of spectrum be made available for wireless broadband use within 10 years. That plan has moved forward slowly, and federal agencies have been slow to offer up underutilized airwaves.

The report released Friday could put pressure on agencies to stop dragging their feet. It recommends an accounting and incentives system that would utilize an artificial "spectrum currency" to reward agencies for improving their spectrum efficiency and offering airwaves for sharing.

The council proposes in the report rewarding early adopter agencies by allowing them to trade the artificial currency for actual dollars to upgrade their systems so they require less spectrum in the future.

The council's members include Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Microsoft Corp's Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie and Yale University President Richard Levin.

The wireless industry has said they prefer to have full control over the airwaves they use, warning that restrictions put in place to protect government operations could swallow the value of the spectrum and discourage companies from bidding.

"The gold standard for deployment of ubiquitous mobile broadband networks remains cleared spectrum," said Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for the wireless trade association CTIA.

An exclusive-use approach has allowed carriers to invest billions of dollars in mobile broadband networks, and is the approach used by countries that the United States must compete with in the global marketplace, he added.

Operators such as AT&T Inc and Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc, have called on the government to make good on its promise to find more spectrum for wireless customers.

Without more efficient use of the country's spectrum, there is a risk consumers will experience clogged networks, more dropped calls and slower connection speeds on wireless devices.

"While we should be considering all options to meet the country's spectrum goals, including the sharing of federal spectrum with government users, it is imperative that we clear and reallocate government spectrum where practical," said Joan Marsh, AT&T's vice president of federal regulatory.

The Federal Communications Commission, which manages commercial spectrum licenses, and the Commerce Department, which oversees government spectrum, have been working together to locate unused spectrum.

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