Spectrum Inventory Bill Moving Through Congress
Spectrum Inventory Bill Moving Through Congress
Spectrum Inventory Bill Moving Through Congress

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    that The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday approved

    S. 649
    , the Radio Spectrum Inventory Act, which would give the NTIA
    and FCC 180 days to present Congress with a complete inventory of the
    radio frequencies that they manage from 300 Megahertz to 3.5 Gigahertz.

    The key provision of the bill is a new Section 342 of the Communications
    Act that would read:

    (a) Radio Spectrum Inventory- Not later than 180 days after the date of
    enactment of this section, and biennially thereafter, the National
    Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Federal
    Communications Commission, in consultation with the Office of Science and
    Technology, shall carry out each of the following activities:

    (1) Conduct a report that includes an inventory of each radio spectrum
    band, from 300 Megahertz to 3.5 Gigahertz, managed by each such agency.
    Such report shall include–

    (A) the licenses or government user assigned in the band;

    (B) the total spectrum allocation, by band, of each licensee or
    government user (in percentage terms and in sum);

    (C) the number of intentional radiators and end-user intentional
    radiators that have been deployed in the band with each license or
    government user; and

    (D) if such information is available–

    (i) the type of intentional radiators operating in the band;

    (ii) the type of unlicensed intentional radiators authorized to operate
    in the band;

    (iii) contour maps that illustrate signal coverage and strength; and

    (iv) the approximate geo-location of base stations or fixed transmitters.

    CTIA immediately applauded this
    event. Not surprising since the Center for Responsive Politics reports
    that the following organizations are formally lobbying for this bill:

    • National Amusements Inc
    • Verizon Communications
    • Wireless Broadband Coalition
    • National Cable & Telecommunications Assn
    • Technology Assn of America
    • Alcatel-Lucent
    • AT&T Inc
    • Broadwing Inc
    • Consumer Electronics Assn
    • Entergy Corp
    • Lockheed Martin
    • MetroPCS Communications

    I believe that more information on spectrum use is a long needed idea. My
    former FCC colleague, Paul Kolodzy, used to say during the Spectrum
    Policy Task Force/SPTF deliberations that the US spends more counting
    agricultural production like corn and cattle than spectrum even though
    spectrum continues more to the GDP.

    But let us look at the current bill and what it proposes to be
    accomplished in 6 months. For the FCC, (a)(1)(A) and (a)(1)(B) are
    already done and have been for decades. (a)(1)(C) involves information
    that is not presently available at FCC on end user equipment. How many
    mobiles units does police department x or taxi
    company y have? Note that to make the job of the
    CTIA membership easier, they no longer even report cell site information
    to FCC. So at FCC (a)(1)(C) will require a massive new data collection,
    often involving small businesses which hold radio licenses. Then we have
    radios that are “licensed by rule” such as boat and aircraft radios on
    noncommercial units. FCC doesn’t even know who these “licensees” are, so
    counting them will be a real challenge. (Should we mention the
    wireless mic issue
    at UHF where 90% of the users are unlicensed and
    illegal under present rules?)

    Now in the case of NTIA much of the information is available in
    classified databases. The bill tries to deal with this in (b):

    (b) National Security Exemption- A licensee or
    government user of spectrum may petition the Commission or the National
    Telecommunications and Information Administration for a partial or total
    exemption from inclusion on the website and in the report required by
    subsection (a). Such an exemption may be granted only to the extent that
    each such agency determines that disclosure of such information would be
    harmful to the national security of the United States. The licensee or
    government user seeking an exemption under this subsection bears the
    burden of justifying the exemption and shall provide clear and convincing
    evidence to support such an exemption. Any such exemption shall apply
    only for 2 years and shall expire upon the end of such 2-year period
    unless the licensee or government user seeks and obtains an extension in
    accordance with this subsection. Any information that is excluded from
    public disclosure pursuant to this subsection shall still be compiled and
    reported to the Committees of Congress described in subsection (a)(4) on
    a confidential basis.

    Those of us use to how things work can images a huge paper pushing
    exercise at NTIA on how much could be declassified. Considering this
    problem has built up over decades, it is unlikely it will be resolved in
    6 months.

    But what happens when the inventory is finished? Presumably CTIA and
    friends want to hunt for new spectrum to use for their industry. Fine
    enough. When can the spectrum be used? Presumably when it doesn’t cause
    “harmful interference” to other users? What is “harmful

    CTIA and mainstream spectrum players such as broadcasters have
    consistently fought against FCC trying to elaborate on the current
    ambiguous definition of harmful interference. As “haves” and insiders the
    current ambiguities give them an upper hand where each issue is resolved
    in intensive 8th Floor lobbying. They do not want

    Another topic opposed by mainstream spectrum users is receiver standards.
    (Note that in this context, “standards” need not mean regulation but
    could mean minimum performance before one is entitled to protection.)
    Although it is not obvious to newcomers, it is well known in the spectrum
    field that “most spectrum is used by receivers not transmitters”. So if
    and when the “inventory” is finished, we will all get into a new set of
    massive arguments about whether a proposed new spectrum use will cause
    “harmful interference” to some population of receivers that has some
    unknown immunity to nearby signals, adjacent channel signals, signals
    capable of causing receiver-generated intermodulation, etc.

    Finally, in the case of NTIA-controlled (Federal) Government spectrum,
    how do you decide if some could be used for new private uses? NTIA
    control is more nominal than real since in reality the NTIA management
    can not order more power agencies to spend their own money. This is the
    natural consequence of the moves by Presidents Nixon and Carter to move
    Section 305
    power of the President out of the White House to the
    Commerce Department and create NTIA. The present NTIA structure is just
    not up to the job.

    Congressionally mandated reallocations, e.g.
    47 USC 923
    , could be tried again, but they have long term costs in
    creating a more hostile atmosphere between FCC and the IRAC members who
    really control most of the spectrum management decisions in the federal
    government. I believe that these previous actions poisoned the atmosphere
    and made NTIA/IRAC drag heir feet on other issues and probably stimulated
    FAA’s unsuccessful endrun on both FCC and NTIA.

    So my bottom line is that the spectrum inventory will have little net
    success, other than employing K Street lawyers, unless it is accompanied
    by at least some progress in:

    1. clarifying “harmful interference”,
    2. receiver standards, and
    3. NTIA/IRAC reform.

    Cross-posted from