CTIA makes spectrum appeal to the FCC
Taking advantage of the fact that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and the rest of the commissioners back the notion that commercial operators won’t have enough spectrum going forward to support broadband users, the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) is proposing that all sorts of spectrum bands — including those owned by the federal government, broadcasters and mobile satellite service operators — be allocated to commercial mobile operators.
In a filing with the FCC last week, CTIA pushed the commission to work with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to identify underutilized spectrum bands and allocate immediately the 1,755-1,780 MHz band for commercial wireless use and pair it with the 2,155-2,180 MHz band, which CTIA said is readily available.
CTIA also pointed out that much of the government-owned spectrum is under-utilized. The Mercatus Center has noted that more than 20% of the prime spectrum in the United States is federal-government controlled, and that the defense department alone controls more than 500 MHz of spectrum.
“Government actors do not internalize the benefits of innovation as well as a private actor might. As a result, federal agencies that control spectrum have little incentive to … manage it well or deploy more efficient technologies that better exploit bandwidth,” Mercatus Center said, which CTIA cited in its filing.
Moreover, in the long term, CTIA wants the FCC to consider reallocating broadcast and satellite spectrum to commercial mobile operators, as well as examining the possibility of reallocating fixed wireless spectrum below 3 GHz and identifying additional spectrum over 4 GHz that can be used for fixed wireless. Such relocations would free up a significant amount of spectrum for mobile wireless services that can only be accommodated in spectrum below 3 GHz, CTIA said.
“The highly inefficient broadcasters currently occupy a large band of spectrum in the UHF frequency band (470-698 MHz). This spectrum, immediately adjacent to the 700 MHz spectrum, was recently described by the commission as ‘beachfront property’ for mobile broadband services and is uniquely suited to the provision of mobile services,” CTIA wrote. It also pointed out the “overwhelming majority of broadcast television” is offered through wired technologies.
Perhaps most interesting is CTIA’s renewed attack on the satellite industry. While the satellite industry crashed and burned in the late 1990s because of expensive technology and flawed business plans, a 2003 FCC ruling — the Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC) — essentially gave satellite operators a chance to compete.
The ruling allows satellite providers to offer simultaneous satellite and cellular services over their licensed satellite spectrum, but operators staunchly opposed the FCC’s move, saying satellite providers were given a free pass, because they didn’t have to pay for their spectrum. But the FCC placed what it thought was a key safeguard: satellite services must continue to be provided per the ATC order. A satellite operator couldn’t simply use the ATC order as a way to offer terrestrial services.
To date, Globalstar is the only FCC authorized ATC licensee and has signed a spectrum lease agreement with Open Range Communications, which is building a rural WiMAX network.
TerreStar was the first to announce a reciprocal roaming agreement with a major operator — AT&T Mobility. By the end of the year, consumers should be able to buy an HSPA handset that also provides communications via the new TerreStar satellite the operator launched earlier this summer when outside of the range of AT&T’s terrestrial network.
“CTIA believes that a review of current satellite authorizations, coupled with an assessment of whether such providers are fully and efficiently utilizing their spectrum allocations, will inform whether this spectrum should be reallocated for licensed CMRS wireless broadband use,” CTIA wrote.
CTIA apparently feels it can be bold in its requests given recent indications from Genachowski and Blair Levin, who heads the commission’s broadband program. Leven recently told telecom executives and lobbyists at a meeting of the Udwin Breakfast Group in Washington, D.C., that current spectrum holders should be prepared to defend their use of the spectrum.
What does this mean for other entities, such as public safety and utilities, who so desperately need spectrum too?