WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Airwaves used by the U.S. military must be protected as Congress and regulators try to meet growing demand for wireless broadband, a key House of Representatives lawmaker said on Tuesday.
Regulators are looking into freeing up spectrum used by companies and government agencies, including the Department of Defense, but that could prove difficult if military officials cite national security needs.
Democrats and Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have introduced measures aimed at directing the Commerce Department and the Federal Communications Commission to take inventory of how the airwaves are being used.
The bills also require federal agencies to examine which portions of their spectrum are underutilized and can be used more efficiently.
“Any comprehensive look at spectrum must be sensitive to military uses and the need to protect information about such uses,” said Henry Waxman, chairman of the House panel.
At the end of 2008, there were about 270 million wireless subscribers in the United States, including an estimated 40 million active users of mobile broadband, lawmakers said.
As Congress and regulators step up their spectrum inventory efforts, they want to balance commercial use with the needs of public safety in the event of another attack such as September 11 and Hurricane Katrina.
With little information about spectrum use on hand, committee members said they need to know how spectrum is being used efficiently and exactly how much is needed.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has warned of a looming spectrum shortage as wireless companies such as AT&T Inc and Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel Corp and Deutsche Telekom AG’s T-Mobile try to meet video and Internet data needs of their customers.
“We have enough spectrum right now, but we will need more in 10 years,” Steve Largent, president of the CTIA wireless trade group, told lawmakers.
Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc.
FCC officials have said it could take six to 12 years to reallocate spectrum, which is likely to be a key component of the FCC’s national broadband plan to be submitted to Congress by mid-February.
Regulators at the FCC are considering reclaiming airwaves that broadcasters hold for digital television signals. Unhappy with that prospect, broadcasters have said taking spectrum away would be premature as television and handsets are converging.
“Soon the BlackBerry will be a TV. Your iPhone will be a TV,” former Senator Gordon Smith, who is the president of the National Association of Broadcasters, told the committee holding up a handset playing an NBC program.
Reporting by John Poirier; editing by Andre Grenon