President Bush Orders Government Spectrum Review

It will parallel FCC's ongoing evaluation of private-sector allocations

You sit down at the local Starbucks, buy a cup of coffee, and log on to the Internet via the wireless hotspot. While checking your e-mail, your cellphone rings.

That familiar scene is probably what President George W. Bush was thinking about when, on 5 June, he signed an executive order calling for a review of radio spectrum management. ”The existing legal and policy framework for spectrum management has not kept pace with the dramatic changes in technology and spectrum use,” the president said.

The lead investigator in the policy review will be the U.S. Department of Commerce, which is responsible for regulating governmental spectrum use. Private-sector spectrum allocation also will fall within its purview, so as to ”unlock the economic value and entrepreneurial potential of U.S. spectrum assets,” in Bush’s words.

The general idea is to produce recommendations for improving government spectrum management policies and procedures while finding ways to increase ”the efficiency and beneficial use of spectrum” by the government itself, said Bush.

Parallel FCC review

As it happens, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) already is well along with its own review of spectrum policy, though its terms of reference are naturally confined to the part of the spectrum that the FCC regulates—use by private-sector and nonprofit entities. That review, led by Paul Kolodzy, the director of the Wireless Network Security Center at Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, N.J.), began in June 2002 and issued an initial report in November.

A year before that, in October 2001, setting the stage for the FCC’s spectrum policy task force, FCC Chairman Michael Powell characterized U.S. spectrum policy as being ”seriously fractured.” Kolodzy described the FCC review to IEEE Spectrum as the most comprehensive spectrum policy review ever done by the FCC.

In its November report, Kolodzy’s team identified four key areas where policy change is urgently needed.

* Inflexibility of licensing terms.

”There is an illusion that there is not enough spectrum to go around in the private sector,” said Kolodzy. ”Granting licensees additional flexibility...would increase access to the spectrum and correspondingly minimize the real prospect of spectrum scarcity.”

* Obscurity of rules and regulations.

Spectrum users and the FCC should have clear rules that prevent conflict.

* Impediments to new technology.

Kolodzy has referred to ”smart technologies” like low-power processors and digital receivers as examples of techniques that are so agile, they can operate for short periods in unused spectrum. He advised the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation that policymakers should be technology-agnostic, not antagonistic.

* Tolerance of interference.

In particular, emerging technologies can make some gear more tolerant of, or resistant to, interference than current FCC rules recognize.

Passing the baton

Upon completing the first phase of the FCC review last November, Kolodzy was succeeded by Peter Tenhula, the acting deputy chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. His mission is to take the first task force’s findings and turn them into policy.

As for the president’s overarching policy review, no detailed timetable has been set for the Commerce Department to perform and complete its work.

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