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Feds take initial step in allocating spectrum

NTIA issues a report suggesting freeing up the first 115MHz in an overall plan calling for opening up 500MHz of spectrum for commercial use over the next decade.

The federal government has taken the first step in freeing up more spectrum for wireless broadband services in the United States.

On Monday, the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration issued a report identifying 115MHz of wireless spectrum that can be shared among federal agencies and commercial users.

The report proposes that the spectrum be reallocated for commercial wireless broadband use within five years. The report and the reallocation proposal are part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to free up 500MHz of wireless spectrum to be used for new emerging wireless services.

In June, President Obama asked the NTIA and the Department of Commerce to identify 500MHz of spectrum from government agencies and other sources that could be used to fuel the growing need for wireless spectrum. Obama's memorandum followed the Federal Communications Commission's National Broadband Plan, which was presented to Congress in March and called for 500MHz of new wireless spectrum to be added for commercial use over the next 10 years.

The 115MHz of spectrum the NTIA identified in its report is just the initial step in meeting this goal, as the administration looks for other spectrum that can be freed up.

In its 10-year plan, the NTIA proposed reallocating 115MHz of spectrum currently used by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Pentagon for radar systems and weather information.

Specifically, the NTIA recommends that spectrum from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Department of Defense, which is used for radar systems and weather information, be reallocated or shared among commercial users.

The NTIA also identified 2,200MHz of spectrum that it needs to evaluate. Of the spectrum that will be evaluated, about 28 percent is currently used only by federal agencies, while 35 percent is allocated for commercial use. The two groups share the remaining 37 percent.

The FCC has warned that without more spectrum allocated in the U.S., wireless operators will not be able to meet consumer demand for new mobile services.

"The future of our mobile economy depends on spectrum, America's invisible infrastructure," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement. "If we don't act to update our spectrum policies for the 21st century, we're going to face a spectrum crunch that will stifle American innovation, economic growth, and job creation."

The wireless industry applauded the effort, but called it a "just a start." Freeing up spectrum below 3GHz is particularly important because it can deliver the most robust mobile broadband services.

"The 15MHz of spectrum that NTIA has identified below 3GHz is just a start," CTIA President Steve Largent said in a press release. "By making spectrum available for auction, the federal government will enable the wireless industry to continue to invest billions of dollars to purchase the licensed spectrum, and billions more to build and upgrade the networks that fuel our 'virtuous cycle' of innovation."