The Spectrum IT Modernization Act, which advanced on a voice vote out of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on May 20, takes aim at revamping the way the Federal government manages the airwaves.

“We actually don’t use spectrum very efficiently today,” said Terry Halvorsen, former CIO at the Defense Department (DoD) and now CIO of IT and Mobile at wireless device maker Samsung Electronics, at a joint AFCEA-George Mason University online event on May 20.

The Senate bill would require the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information to identify goals to modernize the process of spectrum allocation. The Federal spectrum process has come under scrutiny recently as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a license for Virginia-based Ligado to operate in a spectrum band adjacent to military Global Positioning System (GPS). DoD officials say the move would cause interference with their networks.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) – part of the Department of Commerce – controls spectrum allocated to Federal agencies while the FCC controls civil spectrum.

The current process of granting perpetual licenses for spectrum needs to be reexamined, Halvorsen said. “We are going to have to come up with a policy that starts talking more about how we license and share spectrum,” he said, and suggested the use of artificial intelligence tools in that effort.

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The bill would direct the Commerce Assistant Secretary to consider “artificial intelligence technologies, automation, and improved modeling and simulation capabilities” in NTIA’s effort to modernize spectrum allocation. Specifically, the bill asks the Assistant Secretary to investigate “the creation of a time-based automated mechanism—to share Federal spectrum between covered agencies.”


The Assistant Secretary would be required to submit a report to Congress on the modernization plan within 240 days of the law’s enactment.

“With more and more people working from home, we are beginning to see more commercial investment in 5G,” said Halvorsen, who said carriers are beginning to accelerate 5G rollouts. That calls for “setting some better policies around spectrum sharing,” he said.

The Senate legislation does not appear to have a companion bill in the House.

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Dwight Weingarten
Dwight Weingarten
Dwight Weingarten is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.