Obama Launches Plan for More Efficient Federal Spectrum Use, Trumpets Improvements in Broadband Over Past Four Years

Spectrum, Wireless June 17th, 2013

, Reporter, Broadband Census News

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2013 – President Barack Obama on Friday introduced several new initiatives to facilitate more efficient use of radio-frequency spectrum in order to encourage further development of wireless broadband.

In addition to investments totaling to $100 million in the development of spectrum-sharing technologies and advanced communications, Obama also directed federal agencies to make more efficient use of radio frequencies.

The president’s memorandum instructed agencies to focus on using their spectrum assets more efficiently – in order to make a greater capacity available for consumers and businesses. The memorandum highlights the importance of partnerships between the public and private sectors.

The agencies are to collaborate with private corporations in order to take advantage of their expertise and to give these companies a voice in this process. The administration also called on agencies to engage in greater data-sharing and increased public-private research and development.

A hallmark of the initiative is the creation of a Spectrum Policy Team with the power to oversee the implementation of the new instruction and make recommendations on how federal agencies approach and improve the accuracy of their reporting on spectrum usage.

Data-sharing is being encouraged. Within six months, the Spectrum Policy Team, along with the Department of Justice and several other federal agencies, are to create and implement policies for sharing any spectrum information deemed sensitive.

The administration also announced major investments in developing new wireless technologies. The National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are to issue millions of dollars in grants and contracts.

Additionally, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology of the Department of Commerce are to invest $17.5 million in spectrum and other advanced communications technology, as well as encouraging collaboration between public and private sectors at federal laboratories.

NTIA and NIST will also co-host a Spectrum Technology Day. The event will highlight technological advances being made in the communications field to satisfy the growing demand for spectrum.

Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said,

“Today’s Presidential Memorandum will enable us to meet the challenge of unleashing spectrum for commercial use while also ensuring more efficient use of spectrum.”

Former Representative Rick Boucher, a Democrat of Virginia, who is now honorary chair of the Internet Innovation Alliance, also gave support to the initiative but noted that it was only one step of a much larger process.

“What is urgently needed is a concerted effort to have large swaths of government-owned and underutilized spectrum repurposed for commercial auction,” he said.

Brian Dietz, vice president of communications and digital strategy for the National Cable and Telecommunications Associations, praised the initiative.

“We appreciate the President’s direction to Federal agencies to work with commercial stakeholders on spectrum sharing and other collaborative means of bringing additional licensed and unlicensed spectrum to market,” Dietz said.

The Obama administration also released a report entitled “Four Years of Broadband Growth.” The report describes the current state of broadband in the United States and identifies the key challenges to future growth.

Since 2009, the percentage of homes reached by high-speed broadband has grown from less that 20 percent to more than 80 percent, and average broadband speeds have doubled during that time. Additionally, the percentage of households receiving broadband services has grown from four percent in 2000 to 67 percent in 2010.

According to the report, a significant amount of this growth can be attributed to private investment, which grew by 40 percent between 2009 and 2012.

Despite these improvements, the report identifies broadband adoption and usage as a major problem. Approximately 29 percent of Americans do not have a broadband connection at home, despite the fact that most have access. High cost and lack of relevance are two major causes of this lack of adoption, according to the report. The report also notes the disparity in access between urban and rural areas, particularly at higher speeds.

A release issued by NTCA, the Rural Broadband Association, praised the report’s accuracy in describing successes in broadband development and highlighting the challenges that still remain.

“While it’s good to recognize how far we’ve come, this report also highlights how far we have to go—and the risks we face if rural broadband investment can’t be put back on track soon through sensible universal service policies,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA.

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