Policymakers have long agreed that Washington needs to make more spectrum available for wireless services, but they've struggled to convince the federal agencies that control more than half of the usable frequencies. A new report from the Obama administration raised hopes last week, suggesting a way to squeeze more room for commercial networks out of some prime frequencies that are crowded with federal users.
More than 20 agencies now have exclusive rights to the spectrum in question (1755 Mhz to 1850 Mhz), using it to train fighter pilots, guide smart bombs, monitor the border and conduct surveillance, among other things. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration concluded that it would cost about $18 billion to shift all of these users onto other frequencies, which is more than the government would probably make auctioning the vacated spectrum to the public.
On the other hand, the NTIA reported that a quarter of the frequencies could be cleared in five years. Until then, those frequencies could be shared with commercial users, largely by opening them outside the limited geographic areas where the government is using them. In other parts of that spectrum, the NTIA said, the government and commercial users should find ways to share frequencies with federal users that can't be moved.