Business & GA, Commercial

Perspectives: President’s Spectrum Policy Initiative

By James J. Miller | October 1, 2004
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On June 5, 2003, President Bush issued a memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies, establishing the Spectrum Policy Initiative. The initiative created the Spectrum Task Force, an interagency body chaired by the Department of Commerce and comprised of senior policy makers from the departments of State, Defense, Justice, Transportation (DoT), Treasury, Homeland Security, NASA, and other key stakeholder organizations. These actions launched the first comprehensive review of federal government use of the nation's airwaves in preparation for 21st century spectrum-dependent technologies.

Initiative activities included guidance from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Office of Management and Budget. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) participated as an observer. The result is a report entitled, "Spectrum Policy for the 21st Century-The President's Spectrum Policy Initiative: Report 1," released in June 2004. A second report includes input from public meetings with industry. Both reports are available on the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) Web site at

The goal of this national effort was to develop recommendations to improve spectrum management policies and procedures, foster U.S. economic growth, ensure national security, and maintain technological leadership. The federal missions of public safety, law enforcement, scientific research, and transportation infrastructure also are to be satisfied. From the DoT perspective, radio spectrum is the core "invisible infrastructure" that enables our modal administrations to provide "safety-of-life" services to the traveling public. Spectrum is therefore a critical resource that must be protected against radio frequency interference (RFI) or electromagnetic pollution.

To our constituents in the aerospace arena, this means protecting the value and functionality of legacy avionics systems and aviation services, while allowing evolving terrestrial and satellite-based nav and com technologies to mature into the marketplace. DoT was an active participant in the President's Spectrum Policy Initiative, contributing with a team led by Undersecretary Jeffrey Shane.

Spectrum Task Force members worked from an underlying premise: that the manner in which radio frequency spectrum is managed in the United States could be improved. One issue that the task force grappled with is the inherent tension between the private sector's desire for more spectrum for consumer applications and the executive branch requirements to provide public goods. Fueling this tension is the rapid explosion of unlicensed spectrum-based technologies. Indeed, a number of new radio services already have been approved to operate near restricted radio bands, and many incumbents must now tolerate some interference and make adjustments. The task force found that alleviating this tension will require a strategic collaboration among federal agencies, NTIA and FCC that proactively addresses both "spectrum efficiency" and "spectrum effectiveness."

An example of spectrum efficiency is a single FAA navigation aid that, using one frequency, can provide safety-of-life services to hundreds of aircraft carrying thousands of passengers. The integrity of these services should therefore be protected by regulations that ensure new or untested technologies do not cause RFI. The DoT helped to formulate recommendations that call for potentially "disruptive technologies," such as ultra-wideband (UWB), to be fully evaluated before they are approved to operate near public safety radio bands.

The task force also determined that spectrum effectiveness is equally crucial and offered as an example frequencies that "first responders" need to communicate during times of crisis. These frequencies are rarely used but must be available to government authorities on a pristine, uninterrupted basis.

DoT believes the suggestions in the "Spectrum Policy for the 21st Century" report provide a robust balance among national security, public safety and the economic needs for our nation. Specifically, Recommendations 13, 14 and 15 are intended to resolve national policy debates over spectrum management and ensure accountability by all affected agencies. These recommendations, respectively, initiate a spectrum Policy and Plans Steering Group, use the existing White House Policy Coordinating Committee, and establish a new working relationship with the FCC for DoT public safety issues.

From DoT's perspective, these reforms will ensure that aviation safety radio bands are better preserved and long-term investments in avionics and other transportation systems meet their full potential. Implemented together, they strengthen the policy framework for introducing new technologies and will be responsive to the needs of current spectrum incumbents, as well as the many spectrum entrants yet to come.

James J. Miller is the deputy director of DoT's Office of Navigation and Spectrum Policy. He can be reached at [email protected].

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