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Remarks of Associate Administrator Cooper at the 2019 NTIA Spectrum Policy Symposium

Remarks of Charles Cooper
Associate Administrator, Office of Spectrum Management
NTIA Spectrum Policy Symposium
Washington, D.C.
September 10, 2019

-- As Prepared for Delivery --


Thank you to Doug Kinkoph, and thanks to Assistant Secretary Rinaldo and Deputy Secretary Kelley for joining us this morning.

As Doug mentioned, I joined NTIA a few months ago as the head of the Office of Spectrum Management. I’m grateful to be able to speak to you today about the progress we are making in implementing a comprehensive spectrum policy for the country.

My job this morning is tell you how NTIA has been working to turn the President’s spectrum vision into a reality, and what we’re planning in the near future. I will also introduce the panel discussions, which we’re very excited about. We have a great mix of government and industry experts here to share their views on the challenges and opportunities that we face in marshaling our spectrum resources.


To start, I’d like to provide a little background about NTIA’s role in spectrum policy.

I am an engineer at heart. As you can imagine, I was excited by the opportunity to lead NTIA’s spectrum office because I knew that its work is rooted in the core functions of managing federal spectrum use.

Every month, NTIA engineers process an average of 7,000 spectrum assignments and 25 equipment certification requests. These are the people who make sure that our servicemen and women, our air traffic controllers, and our meteorologists all have the spectrum access they need to serve the country and meet their missions.

Increasingly, our engineers are also helping to manage interactions among all spectrum users, federal and non-federal.  As these interactions have grown more complex, we have been challenged to develop and implement groundbreaking sharing approaches. Engineers at NTIA and our lab in Boulder, Colorado, —the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences—have worked to leverage our country’s technological leadership to further the goal of balancing all competing demands for spectrum.

This has been a collaborative process, involving not only our own engineers, but also those at the federal agencies, the Federal Communications Commission and within private sector companies, trade associations and standards bodies.

You can see the results in the forward-leaning approaches that have characterized the AWS-1 and AWS-3 transitions, the ongoing efforts to share the millimeter wave bands, and our collective effort to implement dynamic sharing capabilities in the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service band.

It’s a real honor for me to be part of this collaborative work.

Implementing the Presidential Memo

As Deputy Secretary Kelley noted, the President initiated a far-reaching assessment of spectrum management policies last year with the October presidential memorandum.

We have responded to that call in close concert with the White House, the FCC and the federal agencies.

I’d like to give a brief update on what we’ve done so far.

Last week, we released the first annual update on the U.S. government’s ongoing spectrum repurposing initiatives. Put together in consultation with the Commission, this report provides a snapshot of the broad efforts to make spectrum available for broadband wireless networks, including 5G—one of our most important national goals.

The report shows that the federal government has made significant efforts to respond to industry’s call for greater spectrum access. It documents repurposing activities in 37 different spectrum bands, from those as low as 512 MHz and up to 246 GHz. 

Through a concerted effort, across government, more than 5,800 megahertz of spectrum has been made available to be used for licensed terrestrial wireless services, including 5G. This includes:

  • More than 200 megahertz of low-band spectrum under 1 GHz;
  • More than 700 megahertz of mid-band spectrum between 1 and 6 GHz; and
  • Nearly 5 gigahertz of high-band spectrum above 24 GHz.

A further 7,250 megahertz of potential licensed spectrum is under study or active consideration for repurposing.

There is a similar story for unlicensed spectrum. More than 14,000 megahertz of spectrum has been made available for unlicensed usage, across low, mid and high-band ranges, with an additional 1,200 megahertz being considered.

Our report shows that we’ve made some significant accomplishments, and that we’re well prepared to continue our efforts.

In addition to the repurposing report, NTIA has embarked on a long-term effort to understand how federal agencies currently use and manage federal spectrum assets, and to determine what spectrum requirements the federal agencies will have in future years.

It’s important to take a close look at federal spectrum usage, even though we know that it will be time- and resource-intensive. We need accurate data to establish how spectrum vitally underpins federal operations. The better data we have, the better we will be at determining how to balance spectrum access for all critical uses — including ongoing federal operations.

Earlier this year, in response to a directive in the presidential memo, the federal agencies sent reports on their future spectrum requirements. We are in the process of preparing a summary of those reports.

For current usage, we sent out a package of guidance documents instructing the federal agencies to begin reviewing their current spectrum usage. We asked the agencies to provide more detail than ever before, beginning with the 3100-3550 MHz and 7125-8400 MHz bands.  Additional bands will be added on a rolling basis as our capacity for these reviews increases and accelerates.

Finally, NTIA has worked with the Secretary’s office, the federal agencies and the White House to craft a document outlining a National Spectrum Strategy. This document will provide an outline of the elements that will drive our national spectrum policy firmly into the future.

Citizens Broadband Radio Service

There are, of course, other ongoing efforts that predate the directives in the presidential memo. I’d like to touch briefly on the 3.5 GHz CBRS band.

NTIA carried out vital engineering and software development for the testing of spectrum access system (SAS) and environmental sensing capability (ESC) equipment. This was a collaborative effort involving the Commission, the Department of Defense and WInnForum, and various industry participants. NTIA’s ITS lab in Boulder was key to this effort.

Both the SAS and ESC capabilities are integral to the establishment of what we are calling Dynamic Protection Areas, or “DPAs,” in coastal areas. Rather than creating static exclusion zones that would have kept CBRS out of many of our major coastal cities, we have defined geographic areas where sensing and database technologies can be leveraged to dynamically determine how the CBRS systems can operate while protecting federal radars. 

I think it is important to underscore two things with regard to the sharing framework that is poised to kick off with CBRS licensed-by-rule operations in the near future:

  • First, when you look at the long-term goal of introducing real-time, dynamic sharing mechanisms like this, we are still on the frontier, and much further effort and refinement will no doubt be needed as we go forward. 
  • Second, DPAs have been tailored for operations in the 3.5 GHz band. Similar approaches may be useful in other bands, but we can’t assume a one-size-fits-all approach will work.

Still, as we stand on the cusp of initial commercial deployments, we should reflect on the audacity of the ecosystem that industry is creating for this band.  We should remember that the decision to replace static exclusion zones with dynamic protection areas is what got us to the point where a nationwide commercial service could even be viable in 3.5 GHz.

This is the kind of bold and innovative thinking the spectrum community needs!

Looking Forward

Looking forward, we will continue to put the President’s spectrum policy approach into action. We are gearing up to implement the National Spectrum Strategy once it is released.

We already have begun generating discussions with the leaders of the newly reconstituted Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC) regarding implementation matters.

Other aspects of the Strategy, and the broader implementation of the PM, will be taken up by the Policy and Plans Steering Group (PPSG) and the Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee (IRAC), which are our primary venues for consultation and governance in the interagency spectrum community.

We are also planning to issue requests for comments (RFC) on two important policy topics:

  • Federal spectrum incentives, and
  • The potential for leasing federal spectrum for non-federal uses.

The incentives RFC will inform a report that NTIA must submit to Congress, under the MOBILE NOW Act, on incentives for sharing or reallocating federal spectrum.  That report is due next March.

The spectrum leasing concept is one that NTIA has included in past budget proposals, and we continue to believe that it is worthy of exploration.

We are also in the final push to prepare for WRC-19, which begins at the end of October and will run through most of November. Many of our staff are participating as members of the U.S. delegation to the Conference, and as always, we have a vital stake in the outcome of the global allocation and regulatory decisions that will be made there. We will provide support for our Head of Delegation, Ambassador Grace Koh, and her entire delegation.

Topics for the Panel Discussions

Now is about time to turn things over to our distinguished panelists. I want to thank our speakers for joining us today and providing their expertise and unique perspectives.

The first panel discussion this morning will feature representatives from government, including agencies that are key federal spectrum users. These officials are familiar with all aspects of federal spectrum policy and management. They oversee some of the most sophisticated, spectrum-dependent systems in the world. The range of those systems, from the microscopic to the interplanetary, is really breathtaking.

These folks are all major players in our national spectrum policy work, so we look forward to hearing their views.

Our second panel brings together private-sector experts to tell us how they see the role of spectrum, and federal spectrum policy, impacting their futures. I look forward to an open discussion, and we will invite audience questions. 

So now, I would like to invite the participants in the first panel to come forward and take their seats at the table, and I will turn the microphone over to Peter Tenhula, one of my deputy associate administrators, to moderate the discussion.