Spectrum battle to be in spotlight at wireless conference

By Bob Brewin, Computerworld |  Networking

The FCC "actively encouraged [Sprint] and other fixed wireless carriers to provide last-mile Internet and other wideband services over the 2GHz bands," the company said in a filing with the commission. Any reallocation of those frequencies to 3G services would constitute "an arbitrary departure from established Commission policy," Sprint added.

Sprint argued that "interference concerns" make it impossible for fixed wireless and 3G mobile services to share the same spectrum. And forcing fixed wireless carriers to switch to another frequency band would require "relocation of many transmitters and customer receivers," according to Sprint. That would be "an incredibly expensive and time-consuming process," it said.

Educational institutions also operate fixed wireless services, known as the Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS), in the 2GHz band. During the past month, ITFS backers have inundated the FCC with comments contending that their use of the those frequencies is essential to bridging the "digital divide" that limits the technology access of poor people.

Jim Leutze, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, said in a letter to the commission last month that continued access "to superior ITFS frequencies is a crucial piece of how we will overcome the digital divide and bring new opportunities to children, workers and families who live in the rural south."

Shifting ITFS to new frequencies would derail a statewide network in North Carolina "that has been in the planning stages for more than seven years," Leutze added.

A consortium of 28 educational groups -- including the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the National Education Association and the National Association of Independent Schools -- also argued against any reallocation of the spectrum now used by the ITFS.

"What remains largely unproven is the need for any additional spectrum [for] 3G services," the groups said in their filing with the FCC. "We suggest that the Commission examine the current spectrum usage and needs of various providers before determining whether any additional spectrum is required."

The FCC is due to make its decision on March 30. The commission is acting in response to an order that was issued last fall by former president Bill Clinton, who mobilized a variety of federal agencies to jumpstart the process of assigning the radio-frequency spectrum needed to support advanced wireless services.

In November, the FCC released a report that said 3G mobile services could cause "extensive interference" if they shared spectrum with other uses. The report also said moving ITFS to new frequencies would "raise technical and economic difficulties for the incumbents."

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