The Biden Administration has released its long-awaited National Spectrum Strategy, which lays out a blueprint for modernizing the federal government’s approach to spectrum access, allocation, and management. Developed by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the Strategy establishes “four pillars” to “ensure that spectrum policy advances U.S. innovation, economic vitality, and security.”  The strategy’s technical emphasis is on the study of five spectrum bands, totaling 2,786 megahertz, which can potentially be used in the future for various commercial or shared uses. These bands include the lower 3 GHz (3.1-3.45 GHz), 5030-5091 MHz, 7125-8400 MHz, 18.1-18.6 GHz, and 37.0-37.6 GHz bands.  Each of these bands presents unique opportunities and challenges for repurposing and shared use between federal and private sector entities.

Pillar One: The Strategy’s first pillar focuses on making spectrum used by the Federal Government available for commercial use.   The document identifies five spectrum bands totaling 2,786 megahertz for study to determine suitability for potential repurposing:

  • Lower 3 GHz (3.1-3.45 GHz):  The “DoD determined that sharing is feasible if certain advanced interference-mitigation features and a coordination framework to facilitate spectrum sharing are put in place.”
  • 5030-5091 MHz: The FCC is expected to take “near-term action to facilitate the deployment of [unmanned aircraft systems] in this band,” after which the band will be studied for optimizing unmanned aircraft system access.
  • 7125-8400 MHz: This band will be studied for potential wireless broadband use.
  • 18.1-18.6 GHz: The 500 MHz in this band will be studied for expanded federal and non-federal satellite operations.
  • 37-37.6 GHz: The 600 MHz of spectrum in this band will be studied for the potential “to implement a co-equal, shared-use framework” for both federal and non-federal users.

Pillar Two:  Under this pillar, the federal government plans to “develop an architecture for a new collaborative framework that leverages these existing advisory groups, identifies new groups that would aid long-term planning, and defines the interactions among them, including roles and responsibilities and desired outputs.”

Pillar Three: The third pillar calls for embracing innovative technologies to expand spectrum capacity, and establishes the federal government’s plan to set “measurable” goals for advancing technology for spectrum access within the next 12-18 months. The “whole-of-Nation endeavor” under this pillar includes the “encourage[ment] and promot[ion] [of]  research and development that optimizes spectrum utilization, drives technological advancements, bolsters national security, informs effective policies, and advances scientific discovery,” as well as plans to identify “key motivating factors that encourage investments in emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning [], that can increase secure spectrum access and sharing.” This pillar of the Strategy emphasizes dynamic forms of spectrum sharing, and establishes that a “‘designed to share wherever feasible’ mindset will accelerate efficient and effective use of spectrum for all users.”

Pillar Four: The fourth pillar stresses the importance of educating and training a workforce skilled in spectrum management, as well as raising awareness for both the public and policymakers about the significance of spectrum in daily life. The federal government will “develop and periodically update a National Spectrum Workforce Plan to prioritize development of, and enhancements to, the spectrum ecosystem workforce” and encourages stakeholders to “partner[] with colleges and universities to develop programs that offer training in engineering skills to support,” including trade schools and certification programs.

Steptoe’s telecom group will continue to track the implementation of the National Spectrum Strategy.  As this Administration moves forward with implementing the Strategy, we stand ready to help our clients navigate the changing spectrum landscape.