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FCC Says Federal Broadcast Spectrum Likely Not Being Used Efficiently

An audit or study is needed to determine if the federal agencies are using their allocated broadcast spectrum efficiently

U.S. government agencies that are assigned broadcast spectrum are probably not using the spectrum efficiently, a top Federal Communications Commission official told the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

On July 10, 2012, the subcommittee held the hearing “Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission” at which FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, and Commissioners Mignon Clyburn, R

obert McDowell, Ajit Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel were witnesses. 

In response to a question by Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., on freeing up government spectrum, McDowell said, “the question has to be asked, ‘are all agencies of the federal government using all of their spectrum efficiently?’ I think the answer to that question is probably no.”

However, McDowell added that the FCC does not “really know” if all the federal agencies are using their allocated broadcast spectrum efficiently. The reason for that is “there’s never been an exhaustive audit or study in that regard” and “one is needed.” For such an audit to occur will require White House “leadership,” he said. To resolve the issue, the president will have to issue “executive orders that are clear and defined,” he added.

The issue of freeing up government spectrum for use by the private sector is a bi-partisan issue, says Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., who co-chairs—along with Guthrie—the House Federal Spectrum Working Group. “The FCC has a lot on its plate and one of its major tasks with be the most complex spectrum auction in history. It is imperative that the process be transparent,” Matsui said.

The working group is to further the spectrum legislation that was passed in February as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-96) and which authorizes the FCC to offer incentives to broadcasters to relinquish some of their spectrum to wireless providers and which also directs federal action to get agencies to free up some of their spectrum.

Because the “nation continues to face a spectrum crunch,” the working group is working closely with the FCC, National Telecommunications & Information Administration and the Department of Defense, “and other relevant agencies in truly identifying underutilized federal spectrum,” Matsui said.

Such underused federal spectrum needs to be on the market because there are estimates that world-wide mobile broadband subscriptions will grow to five billion users, and use of that spectrum by mobile devices will be “15 times” that, said Rep. Charlie Bass, R-N.H. “Acknowledging that incentive auctions are a ways off, I believe it is vital important that we bring federal spectrum to market in a responsible manner,” he said.

Click here to view the hearing.