President Barack Obama signed a presidential memorandum today that is expected to double the amount of spectrum available for wireless broadband networks.
The action is in line with the new National Broadband Plan unveiled in March, which identified a spectrum crunch based on Americans increasing demand for using data on mobile phones. While this signing is a critical step to fulfilling that need, the plan could take up to 10 years to complete and many carriers feel there is already a shortage today. By signing the memorandum, Obama is making 500 megahertz of spectrum available for auction. For comparison, all of the U.S. carriers use a combined 450 megahertz of spectrum today.
The part of this plan that received the most controversy was where the government was getting the spectrum from. The NYTimes reports that nearly half of the airwaves will come from the federal government. The remainder will come from private companies, including broadcast companies, which will be offered incentives to voluntarily give up some of their holdings. Some broadcast companies will be reluctant to hand over their airwaves because they plan to use their airwaves for delivering mobile TV.
The money raised from the auctions will help pay for the construction of communications systems for police, fire and other public safety agencies, a plan that has been in the works for a long time, but was hampered by the lack of funding. Some of the spectrum included in this may also be specifically ear-marked for such purposes.
For a sense of how badly the additional spectrum is needed, the White House said that, according to its estimates, wireless data will increase between 20 and 45 times in the next five years from levels of usage in 2009.