TR Daily Pallone, Walden Ask GAO to Review Federal Spectrum ‘Breakdowns’
Friday, January 24, 2020

Pallone, Walden Ask GAO to Review Federal Spectrum ‘Breakdowns’

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.) and ranking member Greg Walden (R., Ore.) asked the Government Accountability Office today to “conduct an updated review of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's (NTIA) federal spectrum management processes, how federal spectrum users interact with the NTIA and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), how the NTIA and FCC interact with each other, and the recent federal spectrum management process breakdowns.”

In their letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, the lawmakers noted that “[t]he last time that GAO reviewed NTIA's spectrum management processes was in April 2011 [TR Daily, May 12, 2011] when GAO produced a report entitled Spectrum Management: NTIA Planning and Processes Need Strengthening to Promote the Efficient Use of Spectrum by Federal Agencies. GAO concluded that ‘NTIA's current processes provide limited assurance that federal spectrum use is evaluated from a governmentwide perspective to ensure that decisions will meet the current and future needs of the agencies, as well as the federal government as a whole.’ As the House committee responsible for overseeing NTIA activities, we seek an updated analysis of how these processes have evolved.”

The lawmakers noted that “NTIA's mandate is to manage federal spectrum use by allocating, in collaboration with the FCC, spectrum for exclusive and shared federal use. … Just as the FCC is a non-biased arbiter tasked with managing commercial spectrum allocations, the NTIA is meant to be a non-biased arbiter of managing federal spectrum allocations.

“As a neutral third party, NTIA is able to take into account the differing missions and needs of federal spectrum users in a manner that will maximize the benefits of spectrum use for the public. Congress created this system, in part, to ensure that certain agencies did not improperly elevate their own spectrum needs over others. Allowing a single agency that uses spectrum to manage both its and other agencies' spectrum would risk inefficient use of this precious resource. Each agency is expected to be an advocate for its own spectrum needs, while the NTIA, in advising the President, must be the arbitrator of those potentially conflicting needs,” the letter added.

“Last year, it was clear that the federal spectrum management process broke down. By statute, the NTIA has ‘[t]he responsibility to ensure that the views of the executive branch on telecommunications matters are effectively presented to the [FCC].’ Rather than working through the NTIA as the central repository and manager of federal spectrum, we are concerned that many of the federal agencies with spectrum allocations may have circumvented this statutory process,” Reps. Pallone and Walden said. “This played out in multiple arenas, including the debate leading up to the National Defense Authorization Act, the 2.5 gigahertz (GHz) FCC docket, the 24 GHz FCC auction, and elsewhere. Inefficient management and chaotic processes ensued, which among other things, undermined the U.S. government's efforts in international spectrum coordination proceedings. As the bipartisan leaders of the Energy and Commerce Committee, we have continually expressed our support for NTIA to represent relevant agencies at the FCC on telecommunications matters and for NTIA to properly coordinate and oversee the nation's federal spectrum users.”

The lawmakers asked GAO to “evaluate how the NTIA, the FCC, and federal spectrum users are coordinating to ensure the nation's airwaves are used to their utmost potential. Specifically, we request that GAO study the following matters and provide recommendations as appropriate: 1. How can the NTIA and the FCC improve their process for resolving frequency allocation disputes in shared or adjacent bands and ensure that spectrum is used or shared efficiently? 2. How can federal spectrum users more productively interact with the NTIA in furtherance of the NTIA's overall federal spectrum coordination role? 3. Where more than one federal agency uses a particular band of spectrum, how can the coordination and management process, led by NTIA, be updated and improved? 4. What additional resources does the NTIA need to best coordinate and manage federal spectrum allocated to the various federal agencies? 5. How can federal agencies be encouraged to coordinate with NTIA prior to filing comments with the FCC or another independent agency in matters related to telecommunications and information policy? 6. What lessons can be drawn from breakdowns in the most recent coordination process for the World Radiocommunication Process? What could the key federal agencies, the NTIA, the FCC, and Department of State, do differently to prevent future breakdowns in this process?”

The letter pointed out that the Education Department weighed in at the FCC on the 2.5 GHz band proceeding, the Energy Department commented in the 6 GHz band docket, and the Defense Department wrote letters concerning the impact of potential interference from Ligado Networks LLC operations to GPS signals.

In addition, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration chief Jim Bridenstine wrote the FCC to express opposition to 24 GHz band technical limits adopted by the FCC that they said could result in interference to passive weather systems in the 23.6-24 GHz band. The issue was a key topic at the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19).

NTIA and the FCC had no comment on today’s letter to GAO. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]

MainStory: Congress FederalNews NTIA FCC SpectrumAllocation

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