Letter from Sens. Rubio, Warner, & More Sparks Concern over NTIA Spectrum Supervision

Last Thursday, July 18, a bipartisan letter led by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mark Warner (D-VA) expressed concern over that the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) does not monitor or manage government spectrum use quite as well as it would have us believe. Signed by a total of 14 senators from the Commerce Committee, the letter was sent to NTIA Assistant Secretary Lawrence Strickling.

On June 14, the White House released a memorandum asking all federal agencies to improve spectrum efficiency so that more may be released for commercial use. This task falls primarily on the NTIA’s shoulders; however, the Senators are certainly concerned with the NTIA’s ability to do so, especially in the wake of a 2011 GAO study that yielded not so great results.

In the letter, the Senators quote the GAO study in saying that the NTIA “cannot ensure that spectrum is being used efficiently by federal agencies” and “has limited ability to monitor federal spectrum use.” They then ask for an update on the NTIA’s improvement over the past two years, as well as how the NTIA plans on addressing the recent memorandum.

Questions the senators would like to be addressed in this update include what specific steps the NTIA will take in carrying out the memorandum, how it will ensure that its analysis remains accurate, and what tools are currently used in gauging and maximizing federal spectrum use. A designated “trusted agent” structure is also suggested as a liaison between “federal agencies charged with providing classified systems capabilities and private sector representatives seeking information on spectrum usage.”

This is not the first time that NTIA’s analysis has come under question. In June, Digital Liberty attended a spectrum conference in which NTIA Associate Administrator of Spectrum Management Karl Nebbia claimed that the federal government only uses 18% of “beachfront spectrum,” rather than the 65% figure that has been circulating the media (“Spectrum in High Demand…”). However, the recent PCAST report, which calculates federal government spectrum use based off of the NTIA’s own 2009 spectrum allocation report, confirms that the government controls 65% of the highly desirable 225-3700 MHz band. With the NTIA publicly stating the wrong figures on top of the GAO study cited by the senators, it sounds like an update and improvement plan is certainly in order.

If we ever hope to move a significant amount of misused government spectrum on to the free market, effective NTIA oversight is absolutely needed. Spectrum is a valuable resource that is vital to the advancement of our nation’s wireless services, and the rate of progress we see today will slow to a near-halt without the proper availability of spectrum in the private sector.

Read the full letter here