White House funds federal spectrum study

OMB funds research on how to consolidate multiple federal radar capabilities to free up government-owned spectrum for the commercial market.

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The White House is funding a team of four agencies looking to combine their surveillance radar capabilities and possibly auction off the spectrum freed up by that consolidation.

The Office of Management and Budget on June 2 gave $71.5 million to the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to proceed with a feasibility study into how to consolidate their radio spectrum and auction a portion of it to commercial interests.

The funding is authorized under the Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2015.

The FAA, DOD, DHS and NOAA unveiled a plan last December to combine surveillance, air safety and weather radar applications into a single "system of systems" by 2024. The cross-agency team is called the Spectrum Efficient National Surveillance Radar.

All four agencies currently have similar radar applications and needs -- tracking long- and short-range aircraft as well as weather -- but their radar applications all run on separate parts radio spectrum between 1300 and 1350 MHz.

FAA officials have called that spectrum "prime real estate," which could offer telecommunications and other commercial industries spectrum that can sustain wireless transmission over long ranges.

In January, Rebecca Guy, the FAA program manager for the new spectrum relocation plan, estimated the spectrum occupied by the four agencies' radar systems is potentially worth as much as $19 billion under auction in a couple of decades.

In a June 2 statement, the FAA said the SENSR team is assessing the feasibility of making a "minimum of 30 MHz of the 1300-1350 MHz band" available for reallocation for non-federal use.

The SENSR team had submitted its Pipeline Plan to a technical panel of officials from the agencies that oversee federal spending and spectrum bandwidth -- OMB, the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. That panel approved the plan and submitted it to Congress in January for a mandatory 60-day review. The OMB funding followed that review.

The SENSR team is also reviewing responses to its January RFI and expects one-on-one meetings with potential vendors to start this summer.

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