WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal officials looking for more airwaves to deliver wireless broadband services are recommending that the government reallocate a sizeable chunk of radio spectrum currently used for naval radar systems and weather satellites.
The proposal, outlined in a report released Monday by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, is intended to keep up with ballooning use of iPhones, laptops and other mobile devices that connect to the Internet over wireless networks. As more Americans use such devices to watch video and do other online tasks that eat up a lot of bandwidth, the government is looking for ways to free up additional airwaves – the slices of electromagnetic spectrum that transport data – to ease congested networks.
The wireless industry currently holds roughly 500 megahertz of licensed spectrum. In June, the Obama administration committed the federal government to releasing an additional 500 megahertz of spectrum now being used by government agencies and the private sector, and repurpose it for wireless broadband services over the next 10 years. Those airwaves would be auctioned off to commercial wireless carriers or set aside for unlicensed uses such as Wi-Fi networks.
The new Commerce Department proposal would free up an additional 115 megahertz of spectrum over the next five years for wireless broadband. Of that, 100 megahertz would be shared with Defense Department radar systems. Another 15 megahertz would be reclaimed from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellites used to disseminate weather information.
“As we do our part towards reaching the president’s spectrum goal, NOAA will be working with the administration to ensure resources are made available to mitigate impacts to our weather satellite and weather balloon operations, which are crucial to the nation’s weather and climate forecasting,” NOAA said in a statement.
The Pentagon did not respond to requests for comment.
Lawrence Strickling, head of the NTIA, called the new Commerce Department proposal a “significant down payment” on reaching the broader White House goal.
Freeing up more spectrum for Internet traffic is also a key recommendation of the national broadband plan released by the Federal Communications Commission in March. Among other sources of spectrum, the FCC hopes to persuade TV broadcasters to give up 120 megahertz of their airwaves in exchange for a cut of auction proceeds. Such a proposal would require federal legislation.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has warned of a “looming spectrum crisis” – particularly in dense, urban areas – as more and more Americans go online using wireless networks. The agency also sees wireless connections as a way to bring high-speed Internet access to remote corners of the country where building expensive landline networks doesn’t make economic sense.
The NTIA, which oversees federal spectrum uses, and the FCC, which handles auctions of spectrum to the commercial sector, have been working together to identify more airwaves to handle high-speed Internet traffic. A separate report released by the Commerce Department Monday identifies a total of 2,200 megahertz of spectrum to be evaluated by the government for possible reallocation for broadband.
“The future of our mobile economy depends on spectrum, America’s invisible infrastructure,” Genachowski said in a statement Monday. “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.”
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