A New National Spectrum Strategy

Benton Foundation

Friday, October 26, 2018

Weekly Digest

A New National Spectrum Strategy

 You’re reading the Benton Foundation’s Weekly Round-up, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) telecommunications stories of the week. The round-up is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of October 22-26, 2018

Robbie McBeath

On October 25, 2018, President Donald Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum ordering federal agencies to review their existing spectrum usage, forecast future demands, and prepare a plan for research and development that will enable better use of spectrum in the future.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy framed the announcement as a plan to devise a strategy to speed up the private sector’s deployment of 5G wireless networks. “To lead in 5G and reap the benefits of better and faster wireless connections, we must have a forward-looking, strategic spectrum policy,” wrote Michael Kratsios, Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer. “The steps outlined in this Presidential Memo make it clear that America intends to remain the world leader in next-generation wireless networks.”

A National Spectrum Strategy

The memo directs the Department of Commerce to develop a National Spectrum Strategy to “guide our country’s radiofrequency spectrum policy in the years to come.” The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will work with members of a new Spectrum Strategy Task Force in a multiyear effort to develop and implement this national strategy. 

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, in coordination with the Office of Management and Budget, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Federal Communications Commission, will provide the President a report on existing and planned spectrum initiatives. 

Reports from various agencies are due in about six months, and the development of the strategy itself will be due in about nine months, sometime in July 2019. The memo doesn't call for any new funds or congressional action. 

President Trump's new directive seeks to develop a strategy to meet the rising demand for spectrum, and accomplish the goals of 1) ensuring American leadership in 5G; 2) fuel American job growth, economic prosperity, and quality of life, and; 3) protect the American homeland. The memo seeks a National Spectrum Strategy that includes legislative, regulatory, or other policy recommendations to:

(a) increase spectrum access for all users, including on a shared basis, through transparency of spectrum use and improved cooperation and collaboration between Federal and non-Federal spectrum stakeholders;

(b) create flexible models for spectrum management, including standards, incentives, and enforcement mechanisms that promote efficient and effective spectrum use, including flexible-use spectrum licenses, while accounting for critical safety and security concerns;

(c) use ongoing research, development, testing, and evaluation to develop advanced technologies, innovative spectrum-utilization methods, and spectrum-sharing tools and techniques that increase spectrum access, efficiency, and effectiveness;

(d) build a secure, automated capability to facilitate assessments of spectrum use and expedite coordination of shared access among Federal and non-Federal spectrum stakeholders; and

(e) improve the global competitiveness of United States terrestrial and space-related industries and augment the mission capabilities of Federal entities through spectrum policies, domestic regulations, and leadership in international forums.

Beyond the Memo

In his post discussing the memo, Kratsios gave a nod to the 5G efforts of state and local governments, as well as the FCC. Kratsios wrote:

In addition to the steps outlined in today’s Presidential Memorandum, State and local governments can do their part to win the race to 5G by improving access to land, infrastructure, and property that will support new wireless networks, including in rural America. Government leaders at all levels can reduce regulatory barriers, simplify and speed up the permitting process, allow access to existing infrastructure, and work with industry to craft policies that encourage investment in our communities.

Finally, it is imperative that the Nation complete the work that was begun through the Federal Communications Commission’s two record-setting spectrum auctions. These auctions made available valuable spectrum, but some incumbent users still have not transitioned that spectrum to the winning bidders. For the Nation to win at 5G, incumbent users must transition that spectrum in a timely fashion.

Rolling Back Obama’s Spectrum Memos

This is not the first time White House officials have sought to repurpose federal airwaves. In 2010, President Barack Obama called for the U.S. government to free up 500 megahertz of public spectrum for commercial use; three years later, he signed another memorandum expanding that directive.

But President Trump’s memo scraps Obama’s initiatives and replaces them with his own.

“While those served important purposes at the time, we’re taking a forward look,” said a White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s internal deliberations. The new direction will preserve Obama’s focus on research and development of new spectrum-sharing technologies that allow for multiple users of the same airwaves, the official said.


Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel questioned the length of the time for the reports. “We are ripping up what came before and starting with a new wireless policy sometime [in 2019]. But the world isn’t going to wait for us,” she said. “Other nations are moving ahead with strategies they are implementing now while we’re headed to study hall — and in the interim we’re slapping big tariffs on the most essential elements of 5G networks. If you stand back and survey what is happening, you see that we’re not expediting our 5G wireless leadership, we’re making choices that slow us down.”

Wireless industry trade group CTIA praised the administration for “recognizing the importance of establishing a national spectrum strategy. With the right approach based on licensed wireless spectrum, America’s wireless carriers will invest hundreds of billions of dollars and create millions of jobs to deploy next-generation networks and win the global 5G race.”

Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge, said, "The President's Memorandum is a pragmatic, common sense approach to developing a sustainable spectrum policy to guarantee our wireless future that maintains American leadership while continuing to meet our public safety and national security needs. We particularly applaud the president for embracing the need for a balanced approach that facilitates new technologies for sharing spectrum between federal and non-federal users. We look forward to working with the newly established Spectrum Task Force to develop a National Spectrum Policy that promotes competition and ensures the benefits of the public airwaves for all Americans."

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events Oct. 29 - Nov. 2, 2018

Oct 30 -- Virginia Broadband Summit (NTIA)

Oct 30 -- The Future of the Federal Trade Commission, New America panel

Nov 1 -- FCBA Foundation Charity Auction

Nov 1 -- National Museum and Library Services Board

Nov 1 -- U.S. Manufacturing and Healthcare: How 5G Can Give U.S. Companies an Edge, Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy

Nov 1 -- FTC Hearing #5: Vertical Merger Analysis; the Role of the Consumer Welfare Standard in U.S. Antitrust Law

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Kevin Taglang
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By Robbie McBeath.