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NTIA Finds More Space For 3G

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced it would open up spectrum for 3G use, ending months of acrimonious debate between corporate America and government agencies.

The Department of Defense (DOD) and other federal agencies have been fighting a battle to keep spectrum in the 1710-1755 MHz and 2110-2170 MHz bands closed for military use only, while wireless carriers have been clamoring for more room to operate high-speed Internet wireless phones.

The NTIA determined 135 MHz of total spectrum can be released -- 90 MHz in the 1710-1770 MHz band and 45 MHz in the 2110-2170 MHz -- space that wireless phone carriers will ultimately use to expand the reach of its 3G wireless phone networks.

Agencies affected include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Department of Justics (DOJ), Department of Treasury, the U.S. Postal Service, Department of Transportation (DOT), and the DOD.

The reported concluded that the entire 1710-1755 MHz band would need to be cleared out eventually.

That's not good news for federal agencies using the re-allocated bands; affected agencies have until December 2008 to clear out, depending on "the nature of the radio communications," the NTIA report stated. Government aeronautical mobile systems and terrestrial systems were found to cause "significant" interference to commercial networks, prompting the report's finding to clear out the 1710-1755 MHz band.

It's uncertain when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will auction off the spectrum, though it likely won't happen for another couple years. Regardless of the time frame, the Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 1999 stipulates the winning carriers will pay for the DOD to move or modify systems out of the spectrum.

Senators Fritz Hollings, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee chairman, and Daniel Inouye, Subcommittee on Communications chairman, said Congress would make sure the government isn't stuck with the bill, in a joint statement praising all parties involved for reaching an agreement.

"In the near future, we plan to introduce bipartisan legislation that will supplement these positive steps by addressing a number of spectrum management issues, including the reimbursement of government users when they are required to relocate their facilities to make spectrum available for commercial purposes."

The cost of the move/modification won't be cheap: according to estimates provided by the DOD, the cost to move just non-protected military systems in the 1710-1755 MHz band will run $448-548 million. That doesn't include the 16 protected radio-communication sites operated by the DOD.

The FCC has run in to numerous stumbling blocks in the spectrum auction process. Last month, Congress cancelled an FCC auction under pressure from the Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA).