OTI to Hill: FCC, NTIA Need to Become ‘Dynamic’ Duo

Calabrese said collaboration, sharing, are keys to unlocking spectrum ‘scarcity’

Cries of ‘spectrum scarcity’ are understandable but misplaced so long as the government uses the tools at hand.

That is according to the testimony of Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at New America’s Open Technology Institute for a Senate Communications Subcommittee hearing Thursday (July 23). 

The hearing comes the same day the FCC is launching its CBRS priority access license auction (see below). 

Calabrese says both the surge in demand and some contentious FCC proceedings to free up spectrum for 5G have left the impression that spectrum is scarce. While he concedes it is tough it tough to clear and repurpose low- and mid-band spectrum for exclusive licensing–witness the battles of the C-Band spectrum item, but he said there is a bundle of spectrum that can be unlocked. 

The key: dynamic spectrum sharing, with both the FCC and the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, the White House’s chief communications policy advisor, on the same page. They have been at odds over how to free up spectrum for 5G, but Calabrese said they need to collaborate and cooperate to reach their shared goal of deploying 5G to handle the exponential growth in data demand over the coming years. 

Related: Divided FCC Votes to Proceed with C-Band Auction

He points to a Cisco annual report showing that mobile data traffic will grow at a compound rate of 36% through 2022. “The demand for spectrum capacity will grow further as the Internet of Things (IoT) emerges and machine-to-machine (M2M) data transfers require more and more capacity, projected by Cisco to represent 50% of all devices–smart meters, video surveillance, healthcare monitoring, package tracking–and connections by 20203. 

Calabrese talked up the FCC’s framework for sharing the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum, which authorizes both licensed and “lightly licensed” access to the 3550-3700 MHz used for Navy radar. The framework relies on multiple frequency coordination systems (spectrum access systems, or SAS) for its dynamic sharing framework, with multiple SAS–the Navy, as well as “Priority Access Licenses (PALs), and opportunistic (effectively unlicensed) General Authorized Access (GAA) users.” having to make sure they are protecting incumbents and each other from interference. 

There is also a “use it or share it” impetus by giving any operator access to unused spectrum on an opportunistic basis. 

“One sign of the band’s success is that tens of thousands of CBRS base stations have been deployed since the band opened up just a few months ago, pre-auction and despite the pandemic,” said Calabrese. 

Related: NCTA Says FCC Needs to Clarify CBRS Protections

As to the FCC/NTIA turf wars that are not productive, Calabrese/OTI has some suggestions:  

1. [T]he Executive Office of the President needs to engage directly in guiding and mediating disputes that arise when the FCC and NTIA cannot reach a consensus. 

2. “[T]he White House needs to drive and finalize a National Spectrum Strategy that outlines a coherent set of priorities and strategies that can help shape a consensus among the FCC, NTIA, and federal users…” 

3. “[T]he current MOU [memorandum of understanding] that governs coordination on spectrum matters between the NTIA and FCC should be updated and enhanced.” 

4. “[t]he coordination and consultation process itself needs to be more transparent to stakeholders.”