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Spectrum Decisions Becoming Increasingly Important for Future: FCC’s Simington

FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington said focus on spectrum decision will become increasingly important for digital success.

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FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington

July 13, 2021 — Carefully crafting a cohering spectrum policy is crucial in today’s digital marketplace, which is becoming increasingly reliant on wireless technology, Federal Communications Commissioner Nathan Simington said in a recent Hudson Institute event.

“Given that Wi-Fi, 5G and other wireless technology encompass an ever-increasing spot in the economy, I think it is imperative that we continue to get spectrum policy right by anticipating the needs of industry and consumers and the evolution of tech to the wireless space,” he said at the event, held in late June.

Simington stated his commitment to involving all relevant federal government agencies in discussions about future spectrum decisions.

“I feel that coordination with other executive branch agencies is key to a cohering national policy that allows for private industries to succeed without encumbering existing stakeholders in the executive branch,” he said.

Simington compared the process of future telecommunications regulation to the idea of attempting to build a skyscraper in New York instead of one in a rural area, making the point that working within the constraints of existing infrastructure is a new challenge.

“No matter where you want to build, you’re going to have to deal with prior efforts,” he said. “There’s a lot of history.”

In previous events with the Hudson Institute, Simington had spoken similarly about spectrum usage and its immense increase over the course of the pandemic, arguing that receiver standards that were adequate in the past may not be equipped for the future of radio spectrum.

More can be expected from Simington on this topic in the coming months; since being appointed in December of 2020, he has made spectrum policy a focus.

“Some of the most vital open issues the commission can address [are] physical network security, trade issues, spectrum policy and closing the digital divide,” he said.

Reporter Sophie Draayer, a native Las Vegan, studied strategic communication and political science at the University of Utah. In her free time, she plays mahjong, learns new songs on the guitar, and binge-watches true-crime docuseries on Netflix.

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Spectrum

Interagency Spectrum Agreement Already Paying Off, Officials Say

The August agreement has improved the agencies’ capacity for long-term planning, said an NTIA official.

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Photo of Derek Khlopin, the NTIA’s deputy associate administrator of spectrum planning and policy

November 21, 2022 – The updated memorandum of understanding on spectrum coordination between the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is already greasing the wheels of federal spectrum policy, said officials from both agencies during a webinar Monday.

Freeing up spectrum for commercial use will drive 5G technology and the attendant economic benefits and has become a favorite cause of many in Washington. The agencies agreed to the updated memorandum in August, at which time FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called for a “whole-of-government” approach to spectrum policy.

The August agreement has improved the agencies’ capacity for long-term planning, said Derek Khlopin, the NTIA’s deputy associate administrator of spectrum planning and policy.

And although the memorandum is young, “it’s starting to have a meaningful impact and will continue to,” Khlopin said. He added that his agency is considering methods to concretely track the memorandum’s effectiveness going forward. Khlopin also suggested that the memorandum will demystify the NTIA’s spectrum-related activities for other federal agencies, to the benefit of all.

“I think [the memorandum] reestablished expectations and focused on the sharing of information between the agencies and on long-range planning,” agreed Joel Taubenblatt, acting bureau chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau at the FCC.

The FCC administers spectrum for non-federal uses, the NTIA for federal uses. Federal spectrum managers must weigh the needs of federal agencies – e.g., spectrum used for national security purposes – with the interests of private actors. One way of making more spectrum available is to convince federal agencies to give up their allotments. 

In October, Scott Harris, senior spectrum advisor at the NTIA, said his agency will develop a “spectrum strategy” that will heavily rely on public consultation. Khlopin on Monday echoed Harris, saying that the public’s input is critical.

The FCC announced the winners of the 2.5 GigaHertz (GHz) spectrum auction in September and adopted a notice seeking comment on the 12.7–13.25 GHz band last month. Last week, Commissioner Brendan Carr called on his colleagues to make still more spectrum available.

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Spectrum

Carr Advocates Release of More Spectrum as Deadline to Extend FCC Auction Authority Looms

Allowing the FCC’s authority to auction spectrum to expire would be “unacceptable,” Carr said.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr

WASHINGTON, November 15, 2022 – Commissioner Brendan Carr of the Federal Communications Commission on Monday advocated making available more spectrum for commercial use and urged the extension of the commission’s auction authority that expires next month.  

“We’ve got to make…a great spectrum comeback,” Carr argued during a “fireside chat” hosted by the R Street Institute. “We’ve got to start matching that same pace and cadence that we saw [during Ajit Pai’s term as FCC chairman from 2017 to 2021].” Carr is, like Pai, a Republican.

Carr spoke highly of Pai’s record of acting on several spectrum bands, which includes the auction of 280 megahertz in the C-band – from 3.7–3.98 GigaHertz. Carr called the C-band, “the big kahuna.”

Since the FCC is an independent agency, largely driven by technical considerations, Congress was prudent to vest it with its spectrum authority, Carr argued. But that authority expires on December 16, after a continuing resolution signed by President Joe Biden extended the FCC’s ability to deliver on spectrum policies beyond the original September 30 deadline.

Such an expiration would be “unacceptable,” Carr said. “We have never had a lapse in this auction authority,” he added. “We need to continue to signal to the world and to our private sector that we know what we’re doing, we’re competent here, you can rely on a consistent pipeline of U.S. spectrum.”

In July, the House of Representatives passed the Spectrum Innovation Act, which would vest the commission with auction authority until March 2024.

Carr also praised the efforts of his colleague, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. The FCC in October sought comment on the 12.7 GHz–13.25 GHz band, following the agency’s August announcement of the winners of the 2.5 GHz auction.

Congress can also act to free up spectrum now held by federal agencies that would be more productive if available to the marketplace, said Joe Kane, director of broadband and spectrum policy at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, on a panel following Carr’s remarks.

“Most of the spectrum, whether it’s for licensed or unlicensed, nowadays is going to have to come from federal agencies, and federal agencies are loath to give up the spectrum that they have,” Kane said.

In October, a senior spectrum advisor at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the entity that administers spectrum used by the federal government, said his agency will develop a “spectrum strategy,” the primary goal of which will be to make available more spectrum.

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Spectrum

FCC Seeks Comments on Opening 12.7 GHz Band for 5G, Other Uses

‘This is the first step in unlocking a significant expanse of new mid-band spectrum.’

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Screenshot of Jessica Rosenworcel, chairwoman of the FCC, from the FCC’s September meeting.

WASHINGTON, October 27, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved at its October meeting on Thursday a notice seeking comment on the 12.7–13.25 GHz band, as the commission moves to make available more spectrum for next-generation wireless services, including 5G.

In pursuance of the newly approved notice of inquiry, the FCC will investigate the current uses of the 12.7 GHz band, its potential for mobile broadband and other services, and the proper approach for potential future licensing initiatives. The commission also extended a temporary freeze on applications in the 12.7 GHz band.

“This is the first step in unlocking a significant expanse of new mid-band spectrum,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in her prepared remarks. “But I also know we can’t pin our wireless future on any single band. We need to keep up our efforts to find more airwaves to fuel the mid-band spectrum pipeline.”

The FCC administers radio spectrum for non-federal uses, and the chairwoman said she is working with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration – which administers federally used spectrum – to free up more bands for use by next-generation services. Earlier this month, Scott Harris, senior spectrum advisor at the NTIA, said his agency will pursue spectrum expansions as well.

Rosenworcel also touted her agency’s recent moves to expand spectrum access. “We quickly held an auction in the 3.45 GHz band and followed that up with an auction in the 2.5 GHz band and just yesterday I shared with my colleagues an order that would create new public safety 5G opportunities in the 4.9 GHz band,” her remarks said.

Other business from the FCC October meeting

The commission unanimously approved three other items at Thursday’s meeting. The first, a measure to support Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, is a step toward providing support to mobile carriers and fixed providers in those territories.

The commission also approved notice of inquiry on new strategies to combat illegal robocalls over non–internet protocol networks. The prevailing anti-robocall framework, STIR/SHAKEN, is technologically impossible on non-IP networks, the FCC said. Broadband Breakfast reported Tuesday that industry players submitted comments to the FCC saying a more complete national transition to IP networks could be the solution to what they say has been a framework that has suffered from ineffectiveness.

Finally, the FCC approved a measure to strengthen the security of the national emergency alert systems. The adopted notice requests comments on the operational readiness of EAS systems and advances reporting requirements for cybersecurity risks and risk-mitigation strategies.

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