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The spectrum policy balancing act

Aug. 15, 2013 - 02:35PM   |  
By PAIGE ATKINS   |   Comments
Paige Atkins is Vice President for Cyber and IT Research at the Virginia Tech Applied Research Corp., and former Director for Strategic Planning and Information at DISA.
Paige Atkins is Vice President for Cyber and IT Research at the Virginia Tech Applied Research Corp., and former Director for Strategic Planning and Information at DISA. ()
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Few technological advances have transformed the way we live and work more than wireless communications. However, the exponential growth in demands for wireless applications has us headed on a collision course with the reality that electromagnetic spectrum is a finite resource.

Almost 2 years ago CTIA-The Wireless Association, an international association for the wireless telecommunications industry, released multiple media advertisements focused on radio frequency spectrum. “More spectrum means more freedom,” they said, and I couldn’t agree more. Not just for the economic benefits for our nation, but even more so for the critical national security benefits that spectrum access provide to each and every citizen of the United States.

Spectrum requirements are increasing across federal agencies, state and local governments, and commercial industry, and we must shift our way of thinking to ensure we can satisfy all of these critical requirements. Policymakers, domestically and internationally, continue to wrestle with how to balance national and economic security interests in making spectrum available for increasing public and private sector requirements. The key word is “balance.” The common thread in these discussions is that there has to be a balance in spectrum policy that allows growth in new commercial wireless services (such as broadband) without threatening the ability of the Department of Defense or other federal agencies to serve the public, as their missions require. We must continue to spur innovative thought — looking at these challenges through a different lens. We all have the same spectrum challenges and goals. The key is working together to maximize spectrum access (for all of us), while balancing competing interests that are all essential to our nation.

What really keeps me up at night? Too often, when we are dealing with spectrum use and management, we’ve viewed it collectively in terms of a zero-sum proposition: If somebody needs more spectrum, then somebody else has to give spectrum up. Rather, we need to look at these problems collectively versus as individual pieces to create a win-win proposition by going back and looking at technologies and techniques that improve efficiencies or might allow coexistence of services that perhaps could not coexist before. We need to share spectrum rather then somebody getting it and somebody losing it. Collectively there is not enough spectrum to reallocate to satisfy everyone’s requirements.

My greatest cause of hope? It is that whenever you have something that everyone agrees is needed, that creates tremendous energy. We all want greater spectrum access to satisfy critical requirements, to include economic prosperity and growth as well as national security. When you create an environment in which everyone has a common goal, you can harness the resources across the globe, across industry, government and academia. That is a powerful thing.

Spectrum is the ultimate team sport. It really takes everyone pulling together and trusting one another to be successful.

Paige Atkins is Vice President for Cyber and IT Research at the Virginia Tech Applied Research Corp., and former Director for Strategic Planning and Information at DISA.

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