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'Cavalcade of Promises'

Carr Slams NTIA's National Spectrum Strategy Implementation Plan

NTIA Tuesday released its implementation plan for the national spectrum strategy. Under the plan, studies for the 3.1-3.45 GHz and 7/8 GHz bands, top priorities of wireless carriers, will begin this month and be completed in October 2026 (see 2403120006). FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr criticized the plan, saying in “the best case” the lower 3 and 7/8 GHz bands won’t be available until 2028. Others had a more positive take.

A report on the 37.0-37.6 GHz band would be due in November and the first to be completed. A look at the 18.1-18.6 GHz would start in May and be completed a year later. Work on 5030-5091 MHz, a focus for providing spectrum for drones, would start in a year and be completed in March 2027.

The plan is “mostly a cavalcade of promises and process -- an exhausting list of 36 action items, more study groups, more white papers, more aspirational deadlines, more landmines for interagency gridlock and industry infighting, and perhaps most troubling, the intent to funnel the FCC’s spectrum work into a new bureaucratic process known as the Interagency Spectrum Advisory Council,” Carr said.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., a member of the Armed Services and Commerce committees, also panned NTIA’s plan. It “follows NTIA's pattern of ignoring serious concerns from” DOD “about management of our federal airwaves,” said Fischer, who’s skeptical about allowing 5G use of the lower 3 GHz band given the potential impact that would have on the frequency’s incumbent military systems (see 2306120058).

These spectrum airwaves are vital to highly sensitive and unique defense systems that keep Americans safe -- you simply cannot slap a price tag on relocating them,” Fischer said in a statement. “In many cases, the costs are astronomical, or the systems cannot be re-engineered to function effectively in different bands of spectrum.” If NTIA “continues to move forward on its current course, mission-critical defense operations will be at risk and taxpayer dollars will be wasted,” she said: “NTIA is at a pivotal moment and must consider our nation's spectrum needs more wholistically.”

CTIA offered a more positive view. “We are pleased to see the Administration restore NTIA leadership over spectrum studies, right the course on the lower 3 GHz band, and set up a critical review of the 7/8 GHz band,” said CTIA President Meredith Baker. “It is vital that the Administration now move quickly to start these studies as we need decisive action on reallocating spectrum.”

Scott Harris, NTIA senior spectrum adviser, unveiled the plan at a Free State Foundation conference Tuesday, noting that it comes less than a year after the agency started work on the strategy. The implementation plan “provides that NTIA and the agencies that are the primary users of those bands will co-lead the studies,” Harris said. For the lower 3 GHz, that means DOD, he said.

Harris predicted the strategy will be seen as “the most comprehensive and far-reaching overhaul of spectrum policy undertaken in decades.” While the plan covers several areas, much of the attention on the strategy is focused on the pipeline, “for better or worse,” Harris conceded. He promised early action on 37 GHz, with NTIA creating a working group immediately that will develop a study plan within a month. “We and our federal colleagues do not have the resources to do everything at once -- though you can see there will be a lot of parallel processing here,” he said.

The spectrum strategy “reflects an ethic of continuous reassessment and adjustment of implementation efforts,” the plan says: “This process is dynamic, as government and the private sector engage, work together, and respond to new challenges with innovative initiatives and solutions.” The approach “must be as agile and dynamic as the U.S. wireless ecosystem, with all its complexities and opportunities,” the plan says.

The implementation plan includes other deadlines, for deep dives on improving collaboration and long-term planning for spectrum decisions, using technology to increase access to spectrum and addressing the spectrum workforce. Among the deadlines, NTIA plans developing by December 2025 a road map for improving receiver resistance to harmful interference, which has been an ongoing focus of the FCC (see 2304200040).

Industry Praise

The plan reflects “a deliberative, data-driven and balanced attempt to determine how best to meet the growing spectrum needs of both the private and public sectors,” Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program at New America, told us. Though some want to mandate auctions of DOD spectrum without studying “the implications and alternatives,” NTIA is correct “that it is well worth the time and effort to study these contested frequency bands and engage a wide range of stakeholders in a transparent process,” he said.

The Competitive Carriers Association “appreciates the level of transparency and detail of the next steps outlined for the lower 3 GHz and 7/8 GHz bands, including exploring the full range of outcomes such as spectrum sharing, repacking, relocation, and compression, and other co-existence alternatives,” a spokesperson wrote in an email. 5G Americas is “encouraged by the Administration’s steps to reinforce NTIA’s role in spectrum analysis, address the lower 3 GHz band concerns, and initiate a review of the 7-8 GHz band.”

We have now a plan to tell us when the planned work might be completed, all subject to change,” said Recon Analytics’ Roger Entner.

Incompas has “long supported taking a look at the lower 3 GHz band to explore the potential of repacking and sharing” and is “pleased to see the two-year study on the 7 GHz band and [that] the 37 GHz band will be on an expedited timeline for unlicensed use,” CEO Chip Pickering said. He believes the FCC shouldn’t lose sight of the 12 GHz band, which is not part of the strategy.

Pro-Wi-Fi group Spectrum for the Future called on the NTIA to refocus on sharing in its look at the lower 3 GHz band. “Additional study … for exclusive, high-power use will only delay the inevitable finding that this band should be made available on a shared basis,” the group said. “Wi-Fi technology already allows for coexistence in the 7.125-8.4 GHz band, without the need for relocation of federal incumbent providers,” said WifiForward.

We pledge to roll up our sleeves with other interested stakeholders in demonstrating the virtues of ‘win-win’ coexistence solutions that can promote quicker access, competition, and a diversity of users and use cases, while appropriately respecting and balancing important security interests,” said NCTA.