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Obama Announces Plans to "Unleash" 500 MHz of New Wireless Spectrum

obamaberry_jun10.jpgThe U.S. government is finally catching on to the growing trend that – surprise, surprise – people like to use their mobile devices to access the Internet. The only problem is, of course that America’s mobile infrastructure is years behind that of other regions around the world, while rapid device innovation is quickly crowding the available spectrum. Today, President Barack Obama issued a presidential memorandum aimed at addressing this issue – making more spectrum available for government and commercial use.

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According to the memo, the President has ordered the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) “to make available a total of 500 MHz of Federal and nonfederal spectrum over the next 10 years, suitable for both mobile and fixed wireless broadband use.”

celltower_jun10.jpgThe New York Times reported Sunday that the spectrum will be auctioned off, a similar approach used in the 2008 auction of the 700 MHz frequency band taken from its previous use for UHF TV signals. The majority of this auction will be allocated from federal spectrum, including that from agencies that is being underused or that could be shared with other services.

“We can use our American ingenuity to wring abundance from scarcity, by finding ways to use spectrum more efficiently,” the memo says. “We can also unlock the value of otherwise underutilized spectrum and open new avenues for spectrum users to derive value through the development of advanced, situation-aware spectrum-sharing technologies.”

It is encouraging to see the government take some further steps toward an improved wireless infrastructure, but the timeframe of the spectrum offering is somewhat disappointing. With the exponential growth of smartphone technology, who knows what kinds of things we’ll be trying to do from our mobile phones in the next few years.

In the 2008 auction, Google lobbied to make portions of the spectrum open to use or rental by smaller independent providers. A similar debate could occur with this new spectrum that will be auctioned in the coming years. However, open access to the spectrum is not in the best interest of the major providers, like AT&T and Verizon, since more competition would undercut their subscriber bases.

Photos by Flickr users Rowdyman, and Jeff Kubina.

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