Senators seek specific spectrum relocation proposal from DOD

A bipartisan group wants the Department of Defense and other agencies to begin the process of vacating a key swath of spectrum as the statutory deadline for a related auction approaches.

Jay Rockefeller

Sen. Jay Rockefeller is one of 26 urging DOD to prepare to turn over some of its radio spectrum.

A bipartisan group of 26 senators is urging the Department of Defense and other agencies to begin the process of vacating a key swath of spectrum as the statutory deadline for a related auction approaches.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and ranking member John Thune (R-S.D.) signed a letter asking Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzger and acting Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn to take technical and regulatory steps to prepare for Pentagon to transition out of the 1755-1780 Megahertz band. The letter, dated Aug. 1, was also signed by members of the Commerce and Armed Services committees.

The FCC is preparing to auction the 2155-2180 MHz band by February 2015 to raise money for the construction of the FirstNet nationwide public safety broadband network. Commercial users have long coveted the 1755-1780 band because it pairs well with the 2155-2180 band. The band is in wide use internationally, with 17 of the G-20 countries having the swaths of spectrum devoted to private-sector use. The issue of federal spectrum holdings is getting new attention as industry warns of a coming crunch as more and more high-bandwidth content is transmitted wirelessly to smartphones and other devices. In June, President Obama issued a memorandum urging federal government spectrum users to develop plans to share their holdings with private industry.

In a July 17 letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, DOD CIO Teri Takai laid out a plan for defense operations to vacate the sought-after spectrum while maintaining access to other critical bands that are also being considered for private sector use, including the 1780-1850 MHz band. The move came on the heels of a June 27 hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, at which Takai was accused by members of both parties of slow-walking the process. Not long after the hearing, Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) introduced legislation to vacate the 1755-1780 band for commercial use.

In their letter, the senators noted that if the 1755-1780 band is to be included in the auction, plans to clear the spectrum must be in place by January 2014. “Now that these concrete plans are in place, tough decisions must be made – and made quickly. DOD must provide necessary clarifications and explanations regarding its proposal, including technical specifics about how its relocation proposal would work, as soon as possible,” the lawmakers wrote.

The auction of the combined 1755-1780 MHz and 2155-2180 MHz bands could generate more than $12 billion, according to industry estimates. Takai’s July letter indicates that DOD would incur costs of about $3.5 billion in vacating the 1755-1780 MHz band. 

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