HOUSE EYES FIGHT TO MANAGE AMERICA’S AIRWAVES — The House Science Committee will today dive into the thorny issue of how much wireless spectrum is needed for earth and space sciences. But the session is likely to raise tougher underlying questions — how the U.S. governs its airwaves and steps that the Biden administration and Congress should take to fix what’s increasingly proven a messy system.
— Spectrum wars among U.S. agencies dominated the Trump era , partly a consequence of competing demands for a limited resource. Spectrum is needed not only for feeding data-ravenous wireless demand — you can thank 5G and the rise of Wi-Fi — but also for satellites, intelligent transportation, GPS and other critical infrastructure needs. These disagreements have pitted the FCC, which regulates commercial airwaves, against federal agencies including the Commerce, Defense and Transportation departments.
— The Biden administration, however, has yet to name leaders to spearhead the management of this resource at two critical agencies — the FCC as well as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which manages government-held spectrum on behalf of the executive branch.
— Witnesses will sound the alarm about the state of spectrum affairs: One witness is the author of a Government Accountability Office report, released Monday, that makes 11 recommendations for improving the United States’ chaotic management. It notes “protracted interagency disagreements” that create confusion over what global telecom positions the U.S. even holds.
And EchoStar Senior Vice President Jennifer Manner will urge lawmakers to have the FCC and NTIA meet more frequently, according to written testimony shared with MT. She’ll also lament that U.S. representation in global telecom standards bodies “is often outnumbered by our Chinese competitors.”
— GAO “makes clear that a number of federal agencies have a lot of work to do to improve the process,” committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson(D-Texas) will say in her opening statement. “This Committee will be asking for accountability from both federal science agencies and the FCC as we all learn to live in a more crowded spectrum neighborhood.” Her panel had requested the GAO review following concerns over whether commercial 5G in the 24 GHz band would disrupt weather forecasting.
— Although the administration has said it wants a comprehensive spectrum strategy (as the prior one did), it has yet to unveil anything. “NTIA needs to drive the bus on coming up with that whole-of-government strategy,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told Congress more than two months ago. We’ve already seen the lack of Biden nominees snarl Senate-side efforts to reform U.S. airwaves management.