Government Needs to Step Up as AWS-3 Auction Approaches

April 16, 2014

Several weeks ago, the Federal Communications Commission (Commission) took an important step in speeding commercial access to spectrum currently used by federal government agencies by establishing technical and licensing rules for the AWS-3 band.  

T-Mobile is pleased to see such progress being made.  The Commission created a band plan with licenses sized to promote auction participation by both large and small entities, with an auction expected later this year.  Given its proximity to existing AWS-1 spectrum, AWS-3 channels can be integrated into commercial networks, making the band a perfect candidate to satisfy growing consumer demand.

That integration, however, is dependent upon successful coordination between government and non-federal users both before and after the auction to allow commercial use of the band as soon after the auction as possible.  Much work still needs to be done to ensure potential bidders fully understand the scope of federal incumbency, relocation timelines, and the potential for temporary or indefinite sharing through geographic or temporal access to spectrum.  Without additional clarity about the impact of government operations in the band, wireless carriers’ bidding strategies will have to be made in a vacuum, potentially depressing auction participation and revenues.

Current thinking regarding the potential for government and industry to share the spectrum during a transition period is based on analysis done under the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC), an advisory body to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).  As the auction quickly approaches, potential bidders must have: 1) sufficient information to determine the realistic impact of incumbent federal users through the transition, and 2) an understanding that realistic models will be used to coordinate between industry and government.  Accordingly, federal agencies should make available information on the source of the federal systems in the area as soon as possible, which will allow potential bidders to evaluate mitigating factors and better judge the potential for successful coordination.  We need an effective process for government and industry to work together over the next couple of months to review additional information related to sharing through a transition and to agree on the factors, which must reflect real-world conditions, that will be included in any analysis.  

Making the AWS-3 spectrum available for commercial services while also ensuring federal agencies are able to continue to meet their mission is a huge win for the American public.  The Commission and the NTIA have done an admirable job navigating a difficult process to get to this point.  It is now even more imperative we address these few remaining issues, laying a solid foundation for an auction that allows bidders to participate with confidence so the spectrum can be put to use as quickly as possible.