Panel to resolve spectrum debate

The White House fact sheet on spectrum management

Related Links

The Bush administration announced an initiative June 5 to resolve a long-standing dispute between the public and private sectors about radio airwave availability.

A new approach is intended to balance the often competing interests of the Defense Department, law enforcement and other agencies that rely on satellite-based communications, with the economic interests of mobile phone, satellite television and other service providers.

Industry groups, seeing explosive growth in business, have been pressuring the federal government to open up segments of the radio spectrum currently reserved for defense, transportation and public safety.

But DOD and other government users worry that commercial use could interfere with vital communications, such as air traffic control or satellite-based Global Positioning System applications.

"Recent years have witnessed an explosion of spectrum-based technologies and uses of wireless and voice data communication systems," according to a White House memo issued last week. "The existing legal and policy framework for spectrum management has not kept pace with the dramatic changes in technology and spectrum use."

The initiative, led by the Commerce Department, includes two actions: developing an interagency federal spectrum task force to recommend policies, and convening public meetings to focus on use by state and local governments. Commerce officials could not be reached for comment.

"You had a resource and now it's very crowded," said Jim Lewis, senior fellow and director of the technology program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The president has initiated a study to find ways to use spectrum more efficiently. This is a good thing."

Historically, Congress has bullied DOD to give up space for industry use, Lewis said. But the department's recent technology advances in spectrum use and an improving political position have eased that pressure.

A DOD spokesman said officials "don't automatically go into a defensive crouch every time someone suggests spectrum can be allocated more efficiently."

DOD officials work hard to ensure the department uses spectrum efficiently, the spokesman said. When possible, they cooperate with those from other agencies and industries to find effective ways to manage the spectrum while keeping in mind their mission. "National security is our paramount concern," he said.


Shifting lanes

Think of the radio spectrum as a swimming pool with roped-off lanes, said Jim Lewis, senior fellow and director of the technology program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In the past, the government has managed spectrum by dividing it into paths, leaving space between each frequency to guard against interference. A reorganization of spectrum use offers the possibility that the large spaces between paths — or the lanes — are unnecessary, Lewis said.


  • People
    Federal CIO Suzette Kent

    Federal CIO Kent to exit in July

    During her tenure, Suzette Kent pushed on policies including Trusted Internet Connection, identity management and the creation of the Chief Data Officers Council

  • Defense
    Essye Miller, Director at Defense Information Management, speaks during the Breaking the Gender Barrier panel at the Air Space, Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 19, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Chad Trujillo)

    Essye Miller: The exit interview

    Essye Miller, DOD's outgoing principal deputy CIO, talks about COVID, the state of the tech workforce and the hard conversations DOD has to have to prepare personnel for the future.

Stay Connected


Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.