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Obama wants more airwaves freed for wireless use

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will invest $40 million in the next year and another $60 million over the next five years to free more of the nation’s airwaves for use by consumers in wireless broadband networks, the White House said Friday.

The effort is meant to build on a 2010 initiative that aimed to make available some 500 megahertz of electromagnetic spectrum — the airwaves used by cellphone and wireless communications. Those airwaves were intended to come from a combination of federal and private-sector sources.

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Citing “the skyrocketing demand of consumer and broadband business users,” President Obama directed federal agencies to make more capacity available by enhancing the efficiency of their spectrum use.

In addition, government agencies should share data with the private sector about how much spectrum they have and how much they regularly use, which the administration believes will encourage sharing of airwaves between the government and companies.

“These efforts will provide access to more spectrum for wireless broadband providers and equipment vendors as they respond to increasingly rapid consumer adoption of smartphones, tablets, and other wireless devices,” the White House said in a statement.

The initiative was praised by legislators who have worked to free airwaves. Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat, called the president’s actions “an innovative strategy to help meet our nation’s growing spectrum needs.”

Republicans have also pushed the federal government to free more spectrum, particularly around the so-called incentive auctions of airwaves that were authorized as part of the 2012 Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act.

That law provided for the government to share the proceeds of auctions of newly cleared spectrum with television broadcasters who would willingly sell some or all of their spectrum licenses.

Some companies have pushed for those auctions to set aside broad swaths of airwaves for unlicensed use in Wi-Fi networks and to accommodate commercial uses.

But Republicans in Congress have pressed the Federal Communications Commission to sell as much of the airwaves as possible. At least $7 billion of the auction proceeds are designated for use to help build a nationwide public safety communications network.

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