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Military, CTIA Support Spectrum Bill

Legislation designed to create a spectrum relocation fund for federal agencies received the endorsement of the military, the administration and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) Tuesday afternoon at a meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

Sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R.-Mich.), the subcommittee chairman, H.R. 1320 seeks to help federal agency relocate to comparable wavelengths to make way for private wireless carriers' advanced wireless service offerings to consumers. The government already has identified the 1710-1755 MHz band, mostly currently encumbered by the military, for relocation from the to the private sector.

The military spectrum is considered so valuable to the private wireless industry that it has been dubbed "beachfront property" for its suitability for commercial, mobile advanced wireless services such as 3G.

Under current law, a commercial telecom has to win a spectrum license at a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction and then negotiate with an affected federal agency regarding the price and timeline for the agency to move its spectrum operations to another band.

Upton's bill would require the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce and the administration's principal voice on spectrum, to provide a cost estimate and timeframe for relocation to the FCC prior to auction. The FCC then will hold its auction, but cannot close until the bidding equals at least 110 percent of the estimated relocation cost.

Once the auction is closed, the winning bidder's money will be placed in a newly created spectrum relocation trust fund and the relocating agency will draw down directly from that trust fund until the relocation is complete and fully paid for.

"This bipartisan bill represents a 'win-win-win,'" said Upton. "This is good news for the private sector, which craves certainty in the process, and the consumer who craves the benefits which new services enabled by additional spectrum will afford them. This is good news for government agencies who know that they will be made whole when they relocate to comparable spectrum, and good news for taxpayers who will not have to pay a dime to relocate government agencies and will know that there is tight fiscal oversight in this regard."

Nancy Victory, the NTIA's assistant for communications and information, told the subcommittee Tuesday her agency "enthusiastically" supports legislative action "authorizing the creation of a spectrum relocation fund, which will streamline and shorten the process for reimbursing incumbent users to facilitate their relocation to new spectrum and thus expedite the original spectrum to new services and technologies."

While admitting the military would prefer to keep the spectrum it currently controls, Steven Price, deputy assistant secretary of defense for spectrum, space, sensors and C3, said, "Spectrum is one of the most critical media of modern military operations, and the Spectrum Relocation Fund proposal under consideration could be instrumental in ensuring continued access to it."

Steven K. Berry, SVP for government affairs at the influential CTIA said his organization "fully supported" the Upton legislation, noting the bill meets the wireless industry's three key policy principles: fully funding government relocation; workable timelines for both the wireless industry and the government incumbents; and certainty and accountability in developing relocation cost estimates, using auction proceeds to fund relocations, and following relocation cost and timing estimates.

"Two years ago, the Sebago Group produced an economic study estimating that advanced wireless services could spur $500 billion in economic growth and the creation of over 400,000 jobs in the U.S. economy over the next 10 years," Berry said. "This legislation encourages growth, stimulates investment and the creation of new jobs in the high-tech sector."