President Obama on Monday put his clout behind the National Broadband Plan the Federal Communications Commission released in March to boost the growth of wireless services in the United States.
"Few technological developments hold as much potential to enhance America's economic competitiveness, create jobs, and improve the quality of our lives as wireless high-speed access to the Internet," the president said in a memo to agency heads.
Obama directed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the FCC to identify a total of 500MHz of federal and nonfederal spectrum during the next 10 years suitable for both mobile and fixed wireless broadband use. This will double the amount of spectrum currently available for use by commercial wireless providers, according to Lawrence Summers, assistant to the president for economic policy and director of the National Economic Council. In a speech to the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, Summers equated the economic impact of expanded wireless access to development of the transcontinental railroad, the Panama Canal and the interstate highway system.
In his memo, Obama said the additional 500 MHz of spectrum can be licensed by the FCC for exclusive use by commercial carriers or shared with federal users.
Summers said a portion of that spectrum will come from television stations that could sell their frequencies in an auction, and estimated they could fetch hundreds of millions of dollars at such a sale, even though broadcasters received their spectrum for free decades ago. Summers said new technologies would allow TV stations to continue to broadcast on a portion of their bandwidth, with the rest allocated for mobile Internet services.
Neither the president nor Summers specified federal spectrum targeted for auction, part of the process Obama ordered on Monday. But the FCC in its broadband plan identified the 1755-1850 MHz spectrum band used by the Defense Department for command and control, systems, the Army's new pocket-sized GPS radio called the Rifleman Radio and unmanned aerial vehicle operations as a potential candidate for sale.
Earlier this month, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., suggested
sale of spectrum in the 1675-1710 band used by the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites system, which collects weather data and is operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But FCC made clear in its broadband plan that that there is no such thing as a free lunch. If federal agencies are forced to move off their frequencies, "they may require access to non-federal spectrum to accommodate displaced systems," the FCC said.
Michael Calabrese, vice president and director of the Wireless Futures Program at the New America Foundation, said the Defense Department and the Federal Aviation Administration will continue to need priority access to some radio frequencies, but then added that much of that bandwidth often is unused in most places in the country much of the time.