Pentagon Wants to Share Spectrum With Broadband Providers, Not Auction It

Deputy CIO for Command, Control, Communications and Computer Maj. Gen. Robert Wheeler and Chief Information Officer Teri Takai briefed the press on spectrum last week.

Deputy CIO for Command, Control, Communications and Computer Maj. Gen. Robert Wheeler and Chief Information Officer Teri Takai briefed the press on spectrum last week. // Defense Department

The Pentagon no longer plans to hand over to industry spectrum it now considers vital to national security, a reversal from a broad policy position outlined by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration in March 2012.

The new Defense Department spectrum strategy, detailed by Chief Information Officer Teri Takai at a press briefing last Thursday, calls for sharing spectrum with industry, as well as Defense efforts to develop technologies for more efficient use of spectrum.

NTIA said in 2012 that it was possible to repurpose all spectrum in the 1755-1850 MHz band used by Defense for, among other things, Army battlefield communications and small unmanned aerial systems.

Takai told the briefing that “while we’re trying to meet commercial need, what gets lost is our growing need for spectrum.”  Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Wheeler, deputy CIO for Command, Control, Communications and Computer, said there must be a balance between commercial needs and national security requirements.

Commercial carriers need more spectrum to keep up with voracious demand to support broadband service, which earlier this month Cisco Systems forecast would hit 130 exabytes in 2016. That’s equal to the amount of data stored on 33 billion DVDs or 4.3 quadrillion MP3 audio files.

Freeing up Defense spectrum in the United States will take years, Takai said, due to the complexity of the department’s systems in the 1755-1850 MHz band. “We cannot shift in a short time frame; we just have too much equipment and too much capability that really has to be transitioned in a very thoughtful way so as not to impose a major burden on budgets and a major burden on the taxpayers,” Takai said.

In a July, 2013 letter to NTIA, Takai estimated it would cost the Pentagon $3.5 billion to relocate systems that occupy just 25 MHz in the 1755-1850 MHz band. This would be financed from auction proceeds that the Government Accountability Office estimated in a May 2013 report could bring in $19.4 billion. GAO pegged the total cost of relocating all Defense systems out of the band at $12.6 billion.

In 2012, NTIA said Defense would continue to require access to the 1755-1850 MHz band, including frequencies for Army battlefield systems at 28 bases, such as Fort Bliss, Texas, and White Sands Missile Range, N.M., where the service evaluates new technology on a semi-annual basis.

The new spectrum strategy lacks details on how Defense will balance its requirements with commercial carriers’ need for bandwidth, and Takai said those will emerge over the next few months after consultation with NTIA.

Takai said Defense “must be a responsible steward of the spectrum essential to our operations, while working collaboratively to meet the growing demands of the citizens that we serve.”

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