FCC, NTIA update decades-old pact on spectrum coordination

It’s been nearly 20 years since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) created their Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on spectrum coordination, so it’s high time they updated it.

That was the thinking behind lawmakers’ efforts to get the agencies to update their pact after a series of high-profile disagreements between the two.

The dispute over C-band spectrum with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was the most recent and public tussle. Other examples are the debate over Ligado Network’s L-band network, the 5.9 GHz band and the 24 GHz band as it relates to potential interference to weather forecast data.

The FCC is in charge of commercial spectrum, while NTIA manages federal spectrum use. It just so happens that some of the most viable near-term commercial spectrum is in the hands of federal users. 

The updated MoU comes as the Subcommittee on Communications, Media and Broadband held a hearing Tuesday on the very topic of future spectrum policy and coordination between these agencies.

According to the FCC and NTIA, the revised agreement will strengthen cooperation and collaboration between the agencies and help advance a “whole-of-government” approach to how spectrum is used and managed in the U.S.

The new pact was signed by FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson.

It’s a continuation of the progress the agencies announced in February with their Spectrum Coordination Initiative. As contemplated in that initiative, the MoU establishes a stronger framework for managing spectrum use and planning, including greater coordination between the agencies and a longer-term spectrum outlook. The FCC chair and assistant secretary will hold formal meetings to conduct joint spectrum planning at least quarterly.

Consumer advocacy groups and others were happy to see the updated agreement.

“No one could have imagined in 2003, when the FCC and NTIA last updated their agreement, just how complicated balancing federal needs with meeting the voracious demand for wireless services would become,” said Public Knowledge SVP Harold Feld in a statement. “This agreement will make it possible for the United States to move forward on future wireless technologies, such as 6G and Wi-Fi 7, while protecting public safety and critical federal operations.”

Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) President and CEO Steve Berry said he applauds the FCC and NTIA for reaching an agreement on spectrum coordination.

“Spectrum coordination between these two agencies is essential to ensuring issues are properly addressed before spectrum is designated for commercial use,” Berry said in a statement. “This is an important step in the right direction and will provide much-needed clarity around the most valuable resource for wireless carriers, and I commend the efforts to ensure carriers are able to purchase and use their spectrum as quickly and efficiently as possible.”