Obama seeks to expand airwaves
June 16, 2013 2:40 AM

WASHINGTON — Three years after President Barack Obama laid out an ambitious plan to double the country’s supply of airwaves for use in high-speed wireless Internet service, the White House on Friday announced efforts intended to spur participation by government agencies that have been slow to join the cause.

Without additional airwaves for consumer and business use, administration officials say, the “skyrocketing demand of consumer and broadband business users” for wireless service for smartphones, tablets and other devices will soon outgrow the supply.

For consumers, the initiative could allow cellphone and wireless broadband companies to eventually increase the reliability of their networks, meaning fewer dropped calls and shorter delays in loading video and other large files.

It also could create jobs, the administration says. It cites industry studies reporting that since 2007, more than 500,000 jobs have been created in what is known as the App Economy — the business of creating and selling applications and programs that take advantage of faster Internet speeds and more advanced devices.

The administration said it would invest $40 million in the next year and $60 million over the next five years to find ways for government agencies to share lightly used airwaves that are under federal control with private wireless communications companies.

In 2010, Obama directed government agencies to work to free up 500 megahertz of spectrum from federal and private sector sources. Those efforts have been embraced by numerous federal departments, administration officials say.

But a few others, including the Defense Department, have expressed wariness not only at sharing or giving up any of their designated frequencies, but even at revealing the amount and location of airwaves they control. Doing so could compromise national security, Pentagon officials say.

The Defense Department has said it supports the president’s goals of freeing up spectrum but noted that an increasingly electronically armed military had its own rising needs for spectrum. The administration emphasized that any new plans to free spectrum should not interfere with “mission-critical capabilities” of military and other government departments.

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