NTIA, FCC to shore up spectrum policy cooperation

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel speaks at a Biden administration event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Feb. 14, 2022.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel speaks at a Biden administration event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Feb. 14, 2022. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The federal government's spectrum agencies pledged to update a 20-year-old working agreement and improve coordination on spectrum allocations.

The Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration at the Department of Commerce launched a new plan on Tuesday to coordinate spectrum management, in the wake of multiple critical oversight reports and the troubled rollout of 5G by AT&T and Verizon despite concerns about interference from aviation industry stakeholders.

The new Spectrum Coordination Initiative includes reinstating monthly meetings between the FCC chair and the head of the NTIA to discuss spectrum planning. Currently, an existing deal between the two agencies calls for biannual meetings.

FCC and NTIA are also looking to update a 2003 memorandum of understanding that sets out roles and responsibilities for collaboration on spectrum issues. NTIA by law manages federal civilian agency spectrum; FCC manages commercial spectrum allocations. The Department of Defense, which is not party to the announcement, manages the military's vast spectrum portfolio.

Under the new arrangement, FCC and NTIA will look to "address gaps in government coordination and to better reflect today's spectrum opportunities and challenges."

NTIA and FCC have also committed to come up with joint guidelines and standards to inform spectrum management decisions and improve their collaboration at the technical level through participation in advisory groups. The FCC will become an observer at NTIA's Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee, while NTIA will join the FCC's Technological Advisory Council and Communications, Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council as an observer.

The agencies are deeply involved in an effort to free up or share large swathes of mid-band spectrum currently used by federal agencies in order to support commercial 5G services. A July 2021 report from the Government Accountability Office recommended the two agencies improve collaboration to reduce the risk of interference. Several specific GAO recommendations, including an update to the 2003 memorandum of understanding, are part of the Feb. 15 announcement.

"Now more than ever we need a whole-of-government approach to spectrum policy," FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. "Over the past few years we’ve seen the cost of not having one—and we need a non-stop effort to fix that."

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