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NTIA Hosts First Public Meeting on 3G Spectrum

(November 3, 2000) The NTIA hosted a public meeting attended by government officials and industry representatives to address the selection and allocation of spectrum for 3G wireless systems. 3G is intended to bring broadband wireless Internet access to mobile devices.

The U.S. does not have very much unused spectrum to allot for 3G systems. Hence, spectrum currently allotted to the private sector or government entities for other purposes will have to be reallocated. This makes for a difficult process.

Related Documents
President Clinton's Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies regarding 3G, 10/13/00.
Council of Economic Advisors' report titled The Economic Impact of Third-Generation Wireless Technology [PDF], 10/20/00.
NTIA's Plan to Select Spectrum for Third Generation Wireless Systems in the United States, 10/20/00.

NTIA chief Greg Rohde presided at the meeting. He stated that two revolutions are under way: wireless and Internet. "Third Generation wireless is basically the confluence of these two revolutions."

Rohde stated repeatedly that for the U.S. to succeed in advancing 3G technology, the companies and government agencies involved must work cooperatively. "This is not going to be an easy process," said Rohde. "There are going to be lots of concerns by incumbent users."

One of the incumbent users is the Department of Defense, which was represented at the meeting by Frank Holderness, Director of the Office of Spectrum Analysis and Management. "The Department of Defense has a huge interest in one portion of the band," said Holderness, referring to 1755 to 1850 MHz band.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is a part of the Department of Commerce which has responsibilities regarding spectrum management. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is also involved in spectrum management and auctions. In addition, other government agencies are incumbent users of spectrum, including the military and public safety entities.

Time Frame
10/13/00 Presidential memorandum on 3G released.
10/20/00 NTIA plan released.
11/2/00 First public meeting.
11/15/00 Interim studies to be released.
12/31/00 FCC NPRM on 3G spectrum allocation to be issued.
3/1/01 Final plan to be released.
7/30/01 FCC to adopt Report and Order for changes to the Table of Allocations.
7/30/01 FCC to issue NPRM on service and auction rules.
12/15/01 FCC to issue service and auction rules.
6/15/02 FCC to conduct auction.
9/30/02 FCC to issue licenses.

Rohde outlined several principles that will govern the process. "This process must be technologically neutral." Rohde added that government agencies should not pick technologies. He also stated that "incumbent spectrum users must be treated equitably", and that "this process is not about shutting down something else that is going on." Finally, he stated that the U.S. should understand and "harmonize" with what other countries are doing with respect to 3G systems.

Rohde also reviewed the time table for selecting and allocating 3G spectrum. See, table at right.

Three spectrum bands have been identified for study in this process: 698 to 960 MHz, 1710 to 1885 MHz, and 2500 to 2690 MHz. In addition, other bands will be considered.

Part of the 1710 to 1885 MHz band is currently being used by federal agencies, especially the Department of Defense. The NTIA will conduct of study of the 1755 to 1850 MHz band being used by government agencies.

The 2500 to 2690 MHz band is currently being used for MMDS, MDS, and ITFS. The FCC will conduct a study on this band.

Rohde added that the NTIA does not plan to establish an advisory committee. Nor, does it plan to wait for industry to form a consensus. It plans to proceed according to a strict timetable, but provide ample opportunity for meetings and other communication.

Thomas Sugrue, Bureau Chief of the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, also spoke. He stated that 3G wireless is "a critical topic for the future of competitiveness of the United States." He confirmed that the FCC is "committed to do a Notice of Proposed Rule Making by the end of the year". He also stated that "our goal is to have auctions ... by the summer of 2002."

Dale Hatfield of the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology, and Frank Holderness, of the Department of Defense, also spoke briefly. The program was then opening to questions and comments from the other attendees. Over 100 people packed into the Commerce Department's 4th floor auditorium.

Brian Fontes of the CTIA gave a speech praising the NTIA, and pleading for cooperation. "We all need to walk away from the table feeling that we have given a little, and gained a lot."

One participant asked what documents will be made available. Rohde said that all reports will be public, and that the process will be "open and transparent." Another participant asked that all documents that are submitted be made public also.

Another participant asked the NTIA to "think out of the box" and consider bands over 3GHz. He also stated that future technologies will be "frequency agnostic" and capable of spectrum hopping. He questioned why spectrum needed to be taken away from existing users. Finally, he questioned the need for spectrum auctions. He argued that the 3G process should consider the possibility of mere mobile authorization of spectrum use.

Rohde answered that "we are dealing with the reality and circumstances of the World Radio Conference." He also stated that spectrum is auctioned because federal law requires it.

Tech Law Journal spoke with Rohde after the meeting. He stated that the U.S. military does have interests in the development of 3G wireless technologies. It would particularly benefit from 3G based telemedicine in the field. However, it would also use 3G for other forms of data transfer.

Tech Law Journal also asked what effect the November 7 elections might have on the continuity of the 3G wireless process that is underway. He stated that both Bill Clinton and Al Gore are committed to this process. However, he did not know about a possible Bush administration.


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