5G Presents a Need for Spectrum Coordination Among Federal Agencies


A Senate hearing underscored the need for federal telecommunication agency teamwork surrounding 5G spectrum deployment.

Lawmakers in the Senate heard testimony on Tuesday about the future management of 5G spectrum access in the U.S., specifically regarding the coordination of federal agencies to improve the reallocation of federal spectrum bands to nonfederal uses. 

Andrew Von Ah, the director of Physical Infrastructure at the Government Accountability Office, testified regarding three recommended practices to successfully implement and maintain public and private systems running on 5G broadband. 

“GAO’s work recommended improvements to the federal agency coordination process, in order to better manage spectrum and identify additional spectrum that could be used to deploy 5G broadband,” Von Ah confirmed to Nextgov.

These improvements include having a program management plan in place that is regularly updated, having a similarly updated master schedule and conducting risk management assessments through broadband deployments. 

“Absent these practices, we found that NITA and the agencies and stakeholders involved may not be sure they're anticipating and preparing for the many steps involved in reallocating spectrum, had no basis to judge whether work could have been performed faster and may not be able to respond effectively to risks as they arise,” he testified. 

The agencies in need of better coordination, according to Von Ah, are the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Federal Communications Commission. 

The hearing occurred just as the FCC and the NTIA released a new memorandum of understanding to promote increased coordination between the two agencies. Among other provisions, the FCC will be tasked with giving the NTIA ample notice regarding proposed broadband expansion actions that could potentially interfere with federal operations, especially other spectrum allocations used in the public sector.

Conversely, the NTIA will need to give the FCC notice of proposed broadband actions that could interfere with non-federal operations. 

Von Ah, along with other witnesses, believes the new MOU is a step in the right direction.

“I think the MOU announced today goes a long way towards solving some of those issues,” he said. Von Ah added that future monthly meetings between both agencies will help clarify broadband deployment activity and promote trust between the organizations. 

Steady collaboration can also promote consensus on technical studies that can illuminate cost, feasibility, and interference issues when deploying broadband. 

“The importance of that collaboration is to ensure that we avoid conflicts that can't be resolved …that we're not jeopardizing either national security or public safety in terms of the federal government use of that spectrum,” Vao Ah said. “We're [the GAO] very encouraged by the new MOU, I think it …goes directly to the heart of the recommendations we made. And I think it's going to have a great impact on the level of collaboration.”