Trump Creates Task Force to Free Up More Wireless Spectrum



President Trump on Thursday ordered federal agencies to open up broad swaths of the wireless spectrum for public use, answering pleas from cellphone carriers and other companies seeking to build faster fifth-generation, or 5G, networks.

A presidential memorandum released Thursday launched a new White House spectrum strategy task force that will study ways to make more airwave licenses available. The memo also ordered federal agencies to report their future spectrum needs to the Department of Commerce, which will use the data to decide which types of radio waves could be used by the public sector.

Telecom companies often urge the federal government, especially the Defense Department, to set aside some airwaves reserved for satellites and radar and repurpose them for broader commercial use. Wireless carriers like

AT&T
Inc.

and

Verizon Communications
Inc.

spend billions of dollars on airwave auctions to support their users’ rising data use. The federal government is slated to kick off another major auction in a few weeks.

The promise of new technologies, including 5G wireless standards, has made the field even more crowded. Cable companies like

Charter Communications
Inc.

are experimenting with more ways to serve home broadband and cellphone customers, while Google owner

Alphabet
Inc.

is constantly pushing for more unconventional models for wireless service.

The presidential directive grew out of a White House summit held last year and attended by several executives including AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. The administration followed up that event with a conference last month in which National Economic Council Chairman Larry Kudlow extolled the promise of 5G advances.

Mr. Trump’s decision also revoked two related memorada written in 2010 and 2013 under the Obama administration, though the Federal Communications Commission already implemented some of those past recommendations. The president last year signed an order that would require the removal of two federal rules for every new one it writes.

Thursday’s directive followed the playbook other administrations have used to encourage growth in the telecom sector. It ordered the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to send a report to the president within 180 days, coordinating its effort with other federal agencies including the FCC.

Similar directives have taken years to implement. The White House said good policies take time to develop, especially when national security considerations play a part in the discussion.

“As this is also an arena where the state-of-the-art technology is developing at a rapid pace, we wanted to make sure that the policies developed could be flexible, industry-led, and capable of adapting to new, currently unseen, advancements,” said Michael Kratsios, the White House’s deputy technology chief.

This more consensus-seeking approach will likely attract more industry support than other proposals to aggressively encourage 5G deployment, including a suggestion the government consider a nationalized 5G broadband network similar to the interstate highway system. Industry groups on both sides of the political spectrum criticized that proposal and the Trump administration quickly distanced itself from the idea.

Write to Drew FitzGerald at andrew.fitzgerald@wsj.com



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