Nov. 28, 2015 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Lawmakers Push for Sale of Government Airwaves

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Matsui, above, and then-Rep. Cliff Stearns offered a bill last year directing the government to auction off the 1755-1780 MHz band, but it didn’t become law. However, Congress has already authorized the sale of the spectrum as needed, so no law is needed.

The Pentagon estimates the cost of vacating the entire 1755-1850 MHz band at roughly $12 billion. A Defense Department spokesman acknowledged that testing is under way with the major wireless carriers to examine the feasibility of sharing the spectrum while preserving certain vital government programs such as drones and air combat training systems.

“The department cannot provide details or speculate on the outcome of this effort,” the spokesman said. “However, it is important to note that this is a very good example of the cooperation that is occurring between the DOD and the commercial wireless industry.”

“We must carefully examine the benefits of both clearing and sharing spectrum over the long term,” Matsui said. “We must work to find a timely solution that addresses both our economic needs and our national security challenges.”

Republicans have expressed a broad preference for auctioning spectrum rather than sharing it among carriers, and they are particularly sensitive to concerns regarding critical defense systems. Should agencies drag their feet on vacating some or all of the 1755-1850 MHz block, GOP lawmakers will likely be quick to criticize the administration.

“Sharing sounds great, and there are various sharing technologies, but operating WiFi devices [in the same band] is very different than air combat training sharing spectrum with 4G broadband,” another Senate aide said. “That’s never been done before and probably shouldn’t be the first-choice option to pursue.”

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