Will Congress compromise the nation’s security? It nearly occurred in December, and the threat persists. At issue is wireless spectrum — radio frequencies that are the sustenance of modern communication and which the Department of Defense (DOD) requires for a variety of cutting-edge safety technologies. Some members of Congress wish to compel the Pentagon to relinquish vital frequencies in the name of 5G. This would be a time-consuming and expensive process that would imperil our military preparedness at a time when China poses a growing threat.
Congress need not turn this into a zero-sum contest. Instead of choosing one over the other, lawmakers should pursue spectrum sharing, which can balance and ultimately advance both our military and economic requirements.
Spectrum is one of the most indispensable public resources in the contemporary world. Spectrum is also becoming increasingly scarce, particularly low- to mid-band spectrum, which is essential for data-intensive wireless services. To their credit, American innovators and commercial interests are examining how to utilize every possible piece of spectrum for the benefit of consumers. This necessitates assessing the efficacy of current spectrum utilization by government and non-government entities, including the Pentagon.
Spectrum is utilized by the Pentagon for a variety of security purposes. The list includes GPS, “command and control” communications between branches, communications with military satellites, radio systems aboard aircraft carriers, tactical radios used by soldiers in the field, and other technologies. In order to fulfill its national security mission, the Pentagon must have control over vast portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, given its significance to defense. Due to the nature of its mission, portions of the spectrum under Pentagon control can remain inert until the need or technology arises to utilize them.
These unused or underutilized frequencies are the focal point of this discussion. In an effort to free up a substantial quantity of frequency for commercial auction and use, some companies are urging Congress to force the Pentagon out of certain spectrum bands entirely. Such a proposal nearly passed Congress in December, but defense concerns caused it to fail at the last minute.
These defense concerns were and continue to be justifiable. Senior defense officials have warned that even if the Pentagon could transfer its operations out of certain frequency bands, it is unclear where else they could go. Regardless, the process of relocating radio frequencies would be prohibitively expensive, significantly outweighing any perceived short-term benefit from auction evaluation of the vacated frequencies. Estimates from the Pentagon place the cost at at least 120 billion dollars and likely more, and the duration at at least 20 years.
The last thing the Armed Forces should be concerned with right now is a potential weakness in their capacity to defend the nation. We confront the most dangerous world in over 30 years, with threats emanating from Russia, Iran, North Korea, and China, among others. Our national security is ultimately jeopardized by anything that diverts the military’s focus at this time. Communications is one of the greatest challenges encountered by military commanders. Information exchange has always been crucial to the success of any military operation, but it is even more crucial today. Effective command and control is the essence of leadership, and spectrum utilization enables this.
Moreover, there is a solution that can keep the United States safe while also promoting innovation, growth, and spectrum efficiency. The Pentagon has expressed a willingness to allow private companies to use portions of its spectrum without interfering with vital national defense services.
Spectrum sharing is not an experimental or unproven concept. It is already being utilized on the market with growing success. In particular, the Federal Communications Commission has recently implemented a spectrum-sharing model that enables critical defense technologies to continue operations while commercial interests use the same spectrum for a variety of wireless services. Numerous other spectrum regions currently occupied by the Department of Defense could benefit from a similar spectrum-sharing model. Before making any hasty and costly decision to force the Pentagon out of its current spectrum, spectrum sharing should be thoroughly evaluated by experts.
We must do this correctly. At a time when China’s military and economy are gaining ground, spectrum sharing preserves our military’s communications advantage. Moreover, it can increase the prosperity that ultimately funds our defense. Congress should not consider methods to jeopardize national security for the sake of commercial interests, but rather find a balance between the two. Spectrum sharing achieves this equilibrium.
Source: The Hill