Benefits from Clearing Federal Spectrum Helps Government Agencies Modernize Operations, New CTIA Paper Finds

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WASHINGTON — Clearing federal spectrum for commercial use helps federal agencies modernize their wireless operations and benefit from cutting edge technologies, according to a new CTIA paper. Proceeds from clearing the AWS-1 and AWS-3 bands for commercial 4G services allowed federal agencies to upgrade wireless equipment, enhance spectral efficiencies and improve the quality and resiliency of their wireless operations.

“Clearing federally-controlled spectrum yields billions of dollars to federal agencies to relocate and upgrade their wireless operations while giving wireless providers the spectrum needed to continue U.S. wireless leadership and build our 5G economy,” said Tom Power, CTIA SVP and General Counsel. “The federal government has long been the largest spectrum user in the U.S., and expanding commercial use of these airwaves would represent a spectrum management win-win outcome.”

The paper uses case studies of these two spectrum bands to explore the impact of the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act of 2004, a federal law that created the Spectrum Relocation Fund to defray the costs of federal agencies clearing and relocating their wireless operations.

AWS-3 : Federal agencies received $5.1 billion to cover clearing and relocation, which, among other benefits, allowed the National Weather Service to replace microwave links with new technology, the U.S. Navy to upgrade legacy ship radios to new technologies and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to upgrade to new IP-based systems.

  • Transitioning federal operations from the two government bands required relocating ~16 federal agencies, more than 100 federal wireless systems and over 200 systems or programs that qualified for transition funding under CSEA, including preauction costs.
  • The AWS-3 auction raised $41.3 billion in winning bids and portions of this revenue were used to fund the nation’s public safety broadband network, deploy next-generation 9-1-1 technologies and reduce the federal deficit.

AWS-1 : Federal agencies received $1.36 billion to cover clearing and relocation, which, among other benefits, allowed the USDA’s Forest Service to upgrade radio control functions to IP-based radio technologies, the Dept. of Energy to transition legacy microwave communications to new digital systems and NASA to upgrade video surveillance and air to ground video telemetry systems.

  • Transitioning federal operations from the 1710-1755 MHz band required relocating 12 federal agencies with nearly 2,000 NTIA-issued federal frequency assignments.
  • The AWS-1 auction brought in $13.7 billion in winning bids and AWS-1 spectrum increased U.S. GDP by $48.6 billion.

The paper finds that clearing and reallocating the AWS-1 and AWS-3 bands generated an ROI of 775% and 700%, respectively, considering auction revenues versus federal relocation costs. The paper concludes by noting that relocating government operations in the lower 3 GHz band so the spectrum could be used for commercial 5G networks would provide similar benefits to federal agencies.

The full report is available online.

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