Government Officials Announce 3G Spectrum Plan

July 23, 2002. Officials from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Department of Commerce (DOC), and Department of Defense (DOD), along with the heads of the CTIA and TIA, announced a plan for the reallocation of 90 MHz of spectrum for use by Third Generation (3G) wireless services at a press conference in Washington DC. The identified spectrum is located at 1710-1755 MHz and 2110-2155 MHz.

The participants also called for legislation amending the spectrum auction process. In particular, the administration proposes creating a trust to be funded out of the proceeds of auctions of the reallocated spectrum; this trust would then provide payments to federal entities that must relocate to other spectrum.

3G technology, which is still being developed, will be a digital, packet switched, Internet protocol system. It will carry voice, music and data. It will also further increase the efficiency of use of spectrum, and enable each 3G capable device to have broadband data transfer rates. It is intended to bring broadband Internet access to portable devices. However, providers of 3G services need spectrum upon which to offer these new services.

Spectrum was nationalized since 1927. There is no market in which services providers can purchase the spectrum that they want. If they are to obtain spectrum, the government must take spectrum away from incumbent users, and reallocate it to new users. Incumbents do not like to lose their spectrum, even if they are reallocated other spectrum. The military is the main incumbent in the 1710 -1755 MHz band, and hence, has been involved in the 3G planning process.

The DOC's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released a document on July 23 titled "An Assessment of the Viability of Accommodating Advanced Mobile Wireless (3G) Systems in the 1710-1770 MHz and 2110-2170 MHz Bands". The NTIA has spectrum management responsibilities for spectrum used by government entities, while the FCC has spectrum management responsibilities for spectrum used by the private sector.

Secretary of Commerce Don Evans made a brief opening statement, and then walked out. The remainder of the press conference was conduced by Steven Price (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Spectrum and C3 Policy), Kathleen Abernathy (FCC Commissioner), Kevin Martin (FCC Commissioner), Nancy Victory and Mike Gallagher (NTIA), Tom Wheeler (President of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association), and Matthew Flanigan (President of the Telecommunications Industry Association). The audience included more government employees, industry representatives, and journalists.

The plan does not make any spectrum available today. Rather, it reflects a consensus among the FCC, DOD and NTIA regarding specific spectrum bands that should be reallocated, and changes that should be made to the auction and relocation process. It provides engineers, equipment manufacturers, service providers, and investors an increased level of certainty that spectrum will be made available for 3G, as well as what spectrum bands it will be, and when it will be available.

Don Evans stated that "this is a very very big day". He said that "the executive branch of government, for some ten years now, almost ten years, has been working on the prospect of providing more spectrum for the telecommunications community".

Evans continued that "We have accomplished this, while also achieving the necessary balance between our country's economic growth and the national security of this country, as well as of the safety. Our plan will promote economic growth without jeopardizing the national security of this country. This landmark plan identifies, as I mentioned, 90 megahertz of radio spectrum for advanced wireless telecommunications services that will provide a lasting benefit to the American people. The availability of this additional amount of spectrum will mean improved quality of voice and data services we use today, and also new applications for health care services, and basic business tools, such as data analysis and inventory management."

The DOD's Price stated that "We welcome the findings in the 3G Viability Plan and believe the Plan supports the needs of national security. DoD believes that implementing the 3G Plan will not degrade military capabilities nor harm national security interests."

Price added that "While the Plan requires some changes to certain of our systems, The Defense Department concludes that military capabilities will not be degraded because DoD is gaining access to comparable spectrum, where necessary, receiving cost reimbursement, and being afforded time to adjust our operations."

The CTIA's Wheeler praised the plan for providing industry with a timetable and certainty. He also said that it will allow companies to avoid "fire drill auctions".

Spectrum that will be reallocated for 3G services would also be auctioned. Wheeler explained his comments. He said that in the recent 700 MHz bill "Congress stepped in and removed all of the dates for auctions that had been set arbitrarily as part of a budget game. So what we are now dealing with is that piece of the puzzle coming together with this piece of the puzzle, and the result is certainty and stability."

The FCC's Abernathy then stated that first there would be allocation of spectrum, and then service rules. Then, "at the end of the day, the likelihood is that these would go through auction, but we are talking about nothing until, at the earliest, 2004."

See also, DOC release, CTIA release, TIA release, and opening statement of Tom Wheeler.