Bill Clinton took time out from wrestling with war in the Middle East on Friday to sign an executive order clearing the way for next-generation wireless services in the United States.
The order sets forth an aggressive timetable that would have the Federal Communications Commission auctioning off licenses for so-called 3G wireless
services in less than two years.
Several countries have already moved forward with next-generation wireless, which includes such consumer-friendly features as high-speed Internet access and video streaming. However, crowded use of needed airwaves here in the United States has hindered the ability of wireless companies to move forward.
"The United States must move quickly and purposefully so that consumers, industry and government agencies all reap the benefits of this third generation of wireless products and services," Clinton said in a statement.
Clinton directed the Commerce Department to identify available airwaves by Oct. 20, with an interim report to be developed in cooperation with the FCC by Nov. 15.
Clinton also requested that the FCC issue new rules for 3G services by July 2001, which would be an extremely quick process by FCC rule-crafting standards, so that auctions for the airwaves could be held by Sept. 30, 2002.
FCC Chairman William Kennard said he was "pleased" with the administration's interest in 3G services.
"We are fully committed to taking the steps necessary to make much needed spectrum available for future wireless needs, consistent with balancing the legitimate interests of existing uses, such as national security, public safety, education and broadband services," he said in a statement.
Kennard and others at the commission have made similar statements in the past, but without the pressure of an executive order, the FCC hasn't identified how those spectrum needs could be balanced.
One issue the FCC will have to address is the so-called spectrum cap that limits how much of the airwaves a given wireless provider can own. Many of the large wireless providers that would be the most likely candidates to fund and launch 3G services are dangerously close to the cap limit.
The federal government actually has acted as a roadblock for 3G in the United States. Nations attending the World Radio Conference (WRC) this year identified the band of spectrum, or radio airwaves, best suited for 3G and already used in many parts of the world.
In the United States, many of those bands are being used by federal agencies, in particular the Defense Department.
In the order signed today, government agencies and the FCC were told they "must cooperate with industry to identify spectrum that can be used by third-generation wireless systems, whether by reallocation, sharing or evolution of existing systems, by July 2001."
Clinton also ordered the Commerce Department and the FCC to lead "a government-industry effort, through a series of regular public meetings or workshops," to determine how the United States can adhere to the 3G standards adopted at the WRC this year.