The White House has issued a memorandum outlining the need for a new national wireless connectivity strategy; the document doesn’t really establish anything new, but does request lots of reports on how things are going. Strangely, what it proposes sounds a lot like what the FCC already does.
The memorandum, heralded by a separate post announcing that “America Will Win the Global Race to 5G,” is not exactly a statement of policy, though it does put a few things out there. It’s actually more of a request for information on which to base a future policy — apparently one that will win us a global race that began years ago.
In fact, the U.S. has been pursuing a broad 5G policy for quite a while now, and under President Obama we were the first country to allocate spectrum to the nascent standard. But since then progress has stalled and we have been overtaken by the likes of South Korea and Spain in policy steps like spectrum auctions.
After some talk about the “insatiable demand” for wireless spectrum and the economic importance of wireless communications, the memo gets to business. Reports are requested within 180 days from various Executive branch departments and agencies on “their anticipated future spectrum requirements,” as well as reviews of their current spectrum usage.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy is asked to report in the same time period on how emerging tech (smart homes and grids, for instance) could affect spectrum demand, and how research and development spending should be guided to improve spectrum access.
Another report from the Secretary of Commerce will explain “existing efforts and planned near- to mid-term spectrum repurposing initiatives.”
Then, 270 days from today the various entities involved here, including the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the FCC, will deliver a “long-term National Spectrum Strategy” that hits a number of targets:
- Increase spectrum access, security and transparency
- Create flexible spectrum management models, including standards, incentives and enforcement mechanisms
- “Develop advanced technologies” to improve spectrum access and sharing
- Improve the global competitiveness of U.S. “terrestrial and space-related industries” (which seems to encompass all of them)
It’s not exactly ambitious; the terms are vague enough that one would expect any new legislation or rules to accomplish or accommodate these things. One would hardly want a spectrum policy that decreased access and transparency. In fact, the previous administration issued spectrum memos much like these, years ago.
Meanwhile, this fresh start may frustrate those in government who are already doing this work. The FCC has been pursuing 5G and new spectrum policy for years, and it’s been a particular focus of Chairman Ajit Pai. He proposed a bunch of rules months ago, and just yesterday there was a proposal to bring Wi-Fi up to a more compatible and future-proof state.
It’s entirely possible that the agency may have to justify and re-propose things it’s already doing, or see those actions and rules questioned or altered by committees over the next year. From what I heard this whole effort from the White House was pursued without much participation from the FCC. I’ve contacted the Chairman’s office for details (he’s out of the country presently and had no prepared statement, which may give you an idea of his level of involvement).
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was not enthusiastic about the memo.
“We are ripping up what came before and starting with a new wireless policy sometime late next year. But the world isn’t going to wait for us,” she said in a statement provided to TechCrunch. “Other nations are moving ahead with strategies they are implementing now while we’re headed to study hall — and in the interim we’re slapping big tariffs on the most essential elements of 5G networks. If you stand back and survey what is happening, you see that we’re not expediting our 5G wireless leadership, we’re making choices that slow us down.”
Whether this new effort will yield worthwhile results, we’ll know in 270 days. Until then the authorities already attempting to make the U.S. the leader in 5G will continue doing what they’re doing.
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