WASHINGTON March 2, 2011 – Two members of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet introduced new legislation Wednesday that would modernize the nation’s radio spectrum planning and management.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) introduced the Reforming Airwaves by Developing Incentives and Opportunistic Sharing (RADIOS) Act, an update to similar legislation introduced by Kerry and Snowe during the last Congress.
The act aims to support the President’s plan to increase the amount of spectrum available for mobile broadband and expand 4G high-speed wireless access to 98 percent of Americans.
“Freeing our nation’s airwaves to run at full capacity will help unleash innovation and maintain America’s leadership in communications technology,” said Sen. Kerry, “We know that our nation’s airwaves are a finite resource, and it’s more important than ever to use them as efficiently as possible.”
The Act would require that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in conjunction with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), would conduct a spectrum inventory and present an annual report to Congress. That inventory would allow policy makers and businesses to identify users who are not utilizing their spectrum holdings to its fullest potential.
Currently the FCC maintains a spectrum dashboard website however, the Senators would like the Commission to expand the information provided by the dashboard and update the inventory annually.
Citing an impending “spectrum crunch” due to an exponential increase in mobile broadband use, last year’s National Broadband Plan set forth a goal of freeing up 500 megahertz of spectrum over 10 years for use by mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers. The FCC has proposed several ways to 500 MHz goal, including voluntary incentive auctions, wherein current licensees would receive compensation to give up spectrum they do not use, and the already-completed digital TV transition.
To further the efficient use of spectrum, the RADIOS Act would establish spectrum sharing and reuse pilot programs administered by the NTIA and FCC. Those programs would become test beds where sharing technologies could be tested and improved upon. By developing sharing technologies, devices would be able to function on different bands of spectrum, based on geographic location and their access to available spectrum. The National Science Foundation would also set up spectrum research and experimental research facilities.
Federal use of spectrum would also be evaluated and be subject to revocation or move based on a cost benefit analysis that the Office of Management and Budget will conduct with assistance from the FCC and NTIA.
“Unfortunately, the government’s current spectrum management framework is inefficient and has not kept up with technological advancements to ensure providers have the necessary wireless capacity to meet growing demand for this finite resource.” Sen. Snowe said, “Our nation’s competitiveness, economic growth, and national security dictate that we address current policy shortcomings, and enactment of this vital legislation will help avert the looming spectrum crisis that could create a major barrier to national growth and innovation at this critical juncture in our economic recovery.”
In an effort to expand mobile broadband access, the bill would require the General Services Administration to install free public Wi-Fi hotspots on all new federal buildings. All current federal buildings would need to be retrofitted by Dec 2013. The Federal Buildings Fund would pay for these hotspots.