Spectrum-sharing deal paves way for auction

An agreement between the military and TV broadcasters will pave the way for the Federal Communications Commission to auction off a key block of wireless frequencies to cellphone service providers. 

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on Monday endorsed the deal between the Defense Department and the National Association of Broadcasters, which will help cellphone carriers meet their customers' skyrocketing demand for mobile data. NTIA is the Commerce Department agency that decides how the government uses the airwaves.

The wireless industry has long been eyeing the 1755-1780 MHz band of spectrum, which the military currently uses for pilot training, drones and other operations. 

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Under the agreement, the Defense Department will move its technologies out of the 1755-1780 MHz band and into the 2025-2110 MHz band.

TV broadcasters use the 2025-2110 MHz band to transmit live video from the scenes of breaking news events. Under the agreement, the broadcasters and the Defense Department will share the 2025-2110 MHz band.

"I am happy that the administration has listened to the bipartisan calls from Congress to grow our economy by freeing up these valuable airwaves while addressing our military’s needs," Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement. 

"It has been a long and bumpy road, but I commend the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, the Federal Communications Commission, and the broadcasting and wireless industries for working cooperatively to make today’s plan a reality."

The deal also won praise from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the Communications and Technology subcommittee. Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) said the agreement is an "important step" toward meeting President Obama's goal of making an additional 500 MHz of spectrum available for commercial use. 

National Association of Broadcasters CEO Gordon Smith said the agreement will free up spectrum while ensuring "that local TV stations retain essential emergency news gathering spectrum."

Scott Bergmann, vice president of CTIA-the Wireless Association, urged the FCC to auction the block in time for carriers to pair it with the 2155-2180 MHz band.