AT&T raises red flag over shared spectrum plan

AT&T Mobility as well as industry trade group CTIA were quick to express their reservations about a recommendation from the President’s Council of Advisors on Policy and Technology that commercial entities learn to share spectrum with the federal government rather than expect exclusive access.

PCAST’s nearly 200-page report urged the Secretary of Commerce to immediately identify 1000 MHz that could be opened up for fresh wireless users, but it also recommended that the spectrum be used to implement a new architecture that would “create the first shared-use spectrum superhighways.”

The advisory council wants the White House to issue a memorandum stating it is the policy of the U.S. government to share underutilized federal spectrum to the maximum extent possible.

PCAST justified its recommendations by declaring that clearing and reallocation of federal spectrum for exclusive use is not a sustainable basis for spectrum policy due to high cost, length of time to implement and disruption to the federal government’s mission. Further, the council said the fragmented partitioning of spectrum “leads to inefficiency, artificial scarcity and constraints” on current and future federal and non-federal users.

Spectrum sharing “would provide the basis for economic and social benefits,” said the council.

PCAST’s recommendations raised red flags for incumbent mobile industry players, however. On AT&T’s Public Policy Blog, Joan Marsh, the operator’s vice president of federal regulatory, expressed concern about PCAST’s statement that “the norm for spectrum use should be sharing, not exclusivity.” The council’s report failed to recognize the benefits of exclusive-use licenses, which enabled “creation of the mobile Internet and all of the ensuing innovation, investment and job creation that followed,” she said.

“While we should be considering all options to meet the country’s spectrum goals, including the sharing of federal spectrum with government users, it is imperative that we clear and reallocate government spectrum where practical,” said Marsh.

Marsh said AT&T is encouraged by PCAST’s interest in exploring ways to free up underutilized government spectrum for mobile Internet use. The 1000 MHz that PCAST wants made available for expanded use is twice as much as President Barack Obama directed federal agencies to identify for commercial use in a 2010 memorandum promoting the expansion of mobile broadband opportunities.

In a statement that echoed AT&T’s, Chris Guttman-McCabe, CTIA vice president of regulatory affairs, said “the gold standard” for deployment of ubiquitous mobile broadband networks is cleared spectrum.

“Cleared spectrum and an exclusive-use approach has enabled the U.S. wireless industry to invest hundreds of billions of dollars, deploying world-leading mobile broadband networks and resulting in tremendous economic benefits for U.S. consumers and businesses. Not surprisingly, that is the very same approach that has been used by the countries that we compete with in the global marketplace, who have brought hundreds of megahertz of cleared spectrum to market in recent years,” said Guttman-McCabe.

Many politicians are likely to join with the mobile industry to oppose the use of shared spectrum, because that would mean billions of dollars raised from auctioning exclusive spectrum rights would be lost in the future. But PCAST’s recommendations fall right in line with suggestions from other entities, such as the World Bank, whose recent report on mobile adoption pushes governments to “focus on expansion of network coverage rather than on spectrum proceeds.”

The PCAST report suggested numerous methods to accomplish sharing, including geographic sharing where federal spectrum may be available for commercial use in one location but not another. Secondary usage that automatically switches off when a primary federal user enters the spectrum was also mentioned.

The advisory council’s members include tech luminaries such as Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft. Google and Microsoft are both part of the Wireless Innovation Alliance, which includes think tanks, consumer groups, and education organizations as well as white-space players Aviacomm, Carlson Wireless and Spectrum Bridge. Not surprisingly, WIA applauded the PCAST report.

“Unused capacity on federal bands can be shared utilizing new technologies, such as geolocation databases, that guarantee federal users have access to spectrum when it is needed for critical public services while ensuring private users access to the frequencies when it is not needed by government users,” said WIA.

The group singled out for praise a PCAST suggestion that the TV White Space database approach to shared spectrum “holds immediate promise for opening the underutilized 3550-3650 MHz band for unlicensed devices.” WIA encouraged the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to make implementation of this plan a priority.

PCAST’s report is not the first time the concept of spectrum sharing has been broached in the United States. For example, NTIA found in late March that 95 MHz of spectrum currently in federal hands, the 1755-1850 MHz band, could be repurposed for commercial use, and the agency recommended then that sharing the airwaves might be a way to get the spectrum into the wireless market.

Marsh at AT&T noted the company fully supports NTIA’s effort to determine which government bands can be cleared for commercial use.


For more:
- see the PCAST report (PDF)
- see this Bloomberg article
- see this GigaOM article
- see this AT&T blog post
- see this CTIA release
- see this Wireless Innovation Alliance release

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