Efforts to repurpose federal government spectrum for commercial wireless and unlicensed Wi-Fi use took center stage Wednesday at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing where former FCC Commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker—the current chief of wireless association CTIA—testified that U.S. wireless carriers will require access to more than 350 MHz of additional spectrum by 2019 to satisfy broadband demand.
Wednesday’s hearing coincided with a similar event before the House Judiciary Committee where witnesses spoke of the need to reallocate more government spectrum for unlicensed wireless use while debating security issues associated with the “Internet of Things” and vehicle-to-vehicle communications systems. Reminding lawmakers that they need to look beyond the upcoming broadcast incentive auction for answers to the nation’s wireless spectrum needs, committee chairman John Thune (R-SD) recommended a long-term plan for the repurposing of federal government spectrum that focuses on (1) improvements in the management, sharing, and relinquishment of government channels; (2) identification of specific government bands to be opened or reallocated for wireless use; and (3) reductions in deployment costs. While applauding Thune’s recommendation for a spectrum plan beyond 2020, Baker called for expanded wireless industry access to spectrum resources that would be subject to the light regulatory touch applied traditionally by the FCC, maintaining: “I think we’ve got the winning equation now, and we’ve got to keep it up.”
Another key witness—FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel—advised lawmakers that unlicensed users should also receive a cut of repurposed federal spectrum, as she emphasized: “we need more Wi-Fi.” At the same time, Rosenworcel spoke of the need for incentives for government users to free up their spectrum so they “see gain and not just loss.” Complaining that the current system of reallocation is “just too slow for the modern wireless economy,” Rosenworcel (as well as Baker) endorsed the pending Federal Spectrum Incentive Act (S. 887), which would establish an incentive auction process for the relinquishment of government spectrum under which federal agencies would receive 1% of the auction proceeds for their surrendered channels. As Baker agreed that any repurposing of federal spectrum “has to be a win-win situation for everyone,” Rosenworcel added that the creation of a “spectrum currency with [the] assistance of the Office of Management and Budget” to assist federal agencies in valuing their spectrum would help move plans for federal incentive auctions to fruition because agencies need to “internalize the cost of the spectrum they use.”