Members of the US House of Representatives took an unexpectedly tough tack in a hearing today on wireless spectrum, the frequencies that mobile devices use to access the web and send and receive data, and which are in increasingly high demand. Many lawmakers sharply criticized the military and the national telecommunications agency for being too slow in opening up government-controlled wireless spectrum to consumers and private companies. An effort to have federal government agencies auction-off their spectrum to companies or share it has been in the works since 2004, but has been slow to see results, visibly angering lawmakers. "It has been slow so far, more like dial-up I'd say, rather than broadband," said Billy Long (R-MO).
"we want to move this along."
"I think you're going to see a real bipartisan approach here, we want to move this along," said Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR), the chairman of the House subcommittee on communications and technology, which hosted the hearing in Washington, DC, today. At one point, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA), unleashed a barrage of accusatory questions at Teri Takai, the US Defense Department's chief information officer, asking why the Defense Department had not yet published at estimate of what it would cost to shift some of its systems to using less spectrum, thereby freeing up more for public use. "I have to say that the 'same old, same old' that has prevailed for years, simple is not going to be accepted around here. It just can't be," Eshoo said.
Takai said that the reason the agency had not done a cost-estimate for what it would take the Defense Department to give up the 1755 to 1780 spectrum band because it still needed "some direction" from the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on how a spectrum auction would work. "Do you sit down and talk to each other?" Eshoo asked Takai, point blank. "Why wouldn't the two of you sit down and talk about it. Why am I even having to ask this question again?...This is frustrating." But Takai also pointed out that the Defense Department had serious concerns about giving up, sharing, or otherwise "re-allocating" its spectrum because it currently uses much of it for military communications. "It causes us interference problems because we'd run on a smaller band," Takai said, adding that when it came to combat pilots in the Air Force and other armed services, "it would limit the number of training missions we could fly at the same time."
"Why am I even having to ask this question again?"
But lawmakers did manage to move the spectrum sharing program forward during the hearing, if only slightly. Christopher Guttman-McCabe, executive vice president of CTIA, a wireless industry lobbying group, came to the hearing with a proposed "roadmap" that pegged the cost of the government giving up the coveted 1755 to 1780 spectrum band as $4.7 billion, and the time frame as 2015. Lawmakers told CTIA to give copies to Takai and the Defense Department. "We made progress right there," Walden said. The hearing comes on the heels of President Obama issuing an executive order earlier this month to federal agencies to begin identifying ways they could share or reallocate spectrum quicker.