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White House Issues Spectrum Policy Proposals

The Bush Administration released two lengthy reports Thursday with its recommendations to better manage the nation's increasingly crowded airwaves.

The proposal includes limiting the interference protection afforded to incumbents using inefficient technologies.

Releasing more spectrum for private sector use is a key component of President Bush's goal of universal, affordable access to broadband by 2007. The president is also calling for reduced taxes and less federal regulations for wireless broadband technologies.

"This [wireless broadband] is a very exciting opportunity for the country. The problem is, it requires a spectrum that is not now available," Bush said Thursday in a technology speech at the Department of Commerce.

"And so Congress needs to make the spectrum available. If we want to achieve the goal of broadband in every corner of the country by 2007, we need to make more spectrum available."

Despite the objections of federal agencies such as the Department of Defense about potential interference problems, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), at the urging of the Bush administration, has already made significant amounts of spectrum available for private sector applications.

The FCC rulings include 255 MHz in the 5 GHz band for wireless broadband networks, 90 MHz in the 1.7 and 2.1 GHz band for 3G wireless services and the entire 3-10 band for ultra wideband devices (UWB).

"One of things we need to do is unlock the spectrum's value -- economic value and entrepreneurial potential -- without crowding out important government functions. And we can do both," Bush said.

The new wireless broadband to be deployed in the 5 GHz band utilizes spread spectrum technology designed to jump across a large number of frequencies. Combined with dynamic frequency selection capability, the technology can sense the presence of other operators before transmitting and make a decision about which frequency to transmit.

According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the administration's agency in charge of spectrum used by the government, the technology can co-exist without interference in bands previously exclusively reserved for government radar systems.

Similarly, UWB technologies combine very short transmission pulses with very wide bandwidths. Although UWB operates at power levels low enough to classified by the FCC as unlicensed devices, the bandwidths are so wide they must emit portions of their signals in bands unavailable to unlicensed devices.

During the often fierce debate at the FCC over authorizing UWB devices, government agencies continually complained about the potential interference problems with radar.

The interference debates between government agencies and the private sectors, prompted President Bush to issue a memorandum in June of last year outlining the administration's plans for spectrum management reform.

"Under the existing framework, the government generally reviews every change in spectrum use, a process that is often slow and inflexible and can discourage the introduction of new technology," Bush wrote.

The memorandum called for the Department of Commerce to develop a U.S. spectrum policy for the 21st Century. Specifically, the president directed the Department of Commerce to develop policy tools to streamline the "deployment of new and expanded services and technologies , while preserving national security, homeland security, public safety and encouraging scientific research."

Thursday's report by the NTIA contain the outlines of the proposed policies. The guidelines contain 24 specific recommendations including encouraging Congress to enact legislation that provides the FCC with permanent authority to conduct spectrum auctions and to collect fees for spectrum use.

The reports also call for the establishment of economic incentives such as FCC policies granting access to new bands of spectrum to users deploying "demonstrably non-interfering technology."