Public safety officials and Defense to share spectrum

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has acknowledged the possibility of sharing some of its wireless spectrum with public safety officials, such as police, firefighters and emergency response teams.

In a report submitted to the U.S. Congress Tuesday, DOD officials said it would be possible to share some of the 138MHz to 144MHz band of spectrum that it has rights to on a “limited, coordinated basis” with public safety workers. “A small number of channels may be shared on a regional basis when it is to the mutual benefit of DOD and public safety officials,” said a news release summarizing the report.

However, the document also said that too much use of this band by non-DOD personnel could interrupt the department’s air-surface-air, air traffic control and ground support communication, as well as fire and security alarms and utility controls.

Working with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), state and local governments and public safety officials, the DOD will examine spectrum sharing on a case-by-case basis, officials said.

The contents of Tuesday’s report represent a slight shift in the DOD’s stance regarding its use of spectrum, which it has staunchly defended as a matter of national security, since these airwaves are often used for communication in military situations.

With spectrum in the U.S. in short supply, the wireless industry has pressured the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other government agencies to force the DOD to share, or move away from, some of the many bands of spectrum it operates in.

In particular, wireless companies and regulators are interested in moving the DOD from the 1755Mhz to 1770Mhz band of spectrum it occupies because the International Telecommunication Union has designated a superset of that band for global third-generation wireless, or 3G, services. Proponents of 3G say if all countries reserve the same spectrum band for the service, chances are greater for interoperability, or “harmonization” of services. However, since the war in Afghanistan began in October, calls to curtail the DOD’s use of spectrum have largely been silenced.

Nonetheless, a number of government agencies, including the NTIA, are currently conducting feasibility studies on moving the DOD away from the 1755Mhz to 1770Mhz band, said a DOD official. The study consists of three parts, and while the first phase may be completed as early as this week, the results will not be publicly released until the entire study is completed, the official said.

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