New bills would make RF spectrum inventories open to public

Radio Spectrum Inventory Act calls on NTIA, FCC to head the project

Bills in both houses of Congress would require detailed inventories of federally managed radio frequency (RF) spectrum and create Web portals to make that information available to the public.

H.R. 3125 was introduced July 8 by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and immediately referred to that committee. A similar bill, S. 649, was introduced in the Senate in March and was voted out of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee July 8.

Both measures are titled the Radio Spectrum Inventory Act and, with minor differences, would require that the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create inventories of radio spectrum under their management in 180 days after the measures became law. The inventories would list the authorized services for, and the users of, each band of frequency in the geographical areas in which they are licensed to operate, and include maps showing the usage of spectrum in each area.

The NTIA and the FCC also would submit annual reports to Congress updating the status of the inventory, identifying the least used blocks of spectrum and recommending whether spectrum should be reallocated.

The bills differ slightly in the spectrum to be covered. The House bill covers bands from 225 MHz to 10 GHz, while the Senate version covers bands from 300 MHz to 3.5 GHz. Both bills would exempt sensitive information from published inventories for national security and proprietary business reasons.

The management and allocation of the nation’s RF spectrum is undergoing its largest overhaul in 60 years. Once used primarily for commercial radio and TV broadcasting as well as private and government voice communications, the bands are becoming increasingly valuable and sought after as a medium for voice, video and data transmissions of all kinds, with an ever-growing array of applications. Wireless networking is becoming one of the fastest growing segments of the Internet with the rapid adoption of mobile computing and the use of wireless links for backhaul and trunking of traffic.

Last month, the nation transitioned to digital commercial television broadcasting to free up bands of spectrum that commercial TV stations had used for broadcasting since the 1940s. New digital technology is more efficient, allowing more data to be transmitted in narrower bands, and the transition will free up large blocks of RF spectrum. Making this spectrum available is seen as crucial for the development of new commercial wireless services, including delivery of broadband Internet access to currently unserved and underserved areas, as well as for the creation of an interoperable, national public safety network that would allow first responders from different regions to communicate more easily during emergencies.

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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