‘Each year without an auction … digs the US deeper into a hole’: CTIA presses for FCC auction authority, speedy execution on spectrum plans

‘NTIA has less than two years to get the U.S. back on track,” telecom industry group’s CEO writes

The United States’ leadership in spectrum policy, 5G and reaping the economic benefits of the most advanced mobile networks are in jeopardy and have to get back on track, CTIA’s president and CEO says in a strongly worded new blog post.

“2023 was the first year since 2016 that we did not have a spectrum auction, and there are no auctions planned for the foreseeable future. Each year without an auction, or even an auction on the horizon, digs the US deeper into a hole,” writes CTIA’s Meredith Attwell Baker.

The biggest symptom of the problem? The fact that the Federal Communications Commission’s auction authority has still not yet been renewed by Congress, which has meant that no new auctions can be held and which also impacted previous auctions, including T-Mobile US’ ability to access the slew of 2.5 GHz licenses that it won in 2022.

Attwell Baker said that “America’s wireless future hinges on” four things:

Reestablishing the FCC’s auction authority along with a “forward-looking and comprehensive pipeline of future auctions.”

“We somehow start 2024 with the FCC still lacking spectrum auction authority, hamstringing the ability of the agency and the industry to move forward,” Attwell Baker wrote, adding, “We lost too much of last year delaying on something for which there is significant bipartisan support and clear-cut commercial need.” She went on to say that she was “hopeful that the much-needed 5G Sale Act just signed by the President provides a jumping off point for action and was heartened to see Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell’s comments last week expressing optimism at breaking the spectrum logjam.”

An implementation plan for the previously established National Spectrum Strategy with “clear targets for future full-power auctions, an expedited two-year study schedule, and clarification that NTIA will lead and manage the new studies.”

The federal government quickly providing licensed commercial access to the lower 3 GHz band. “The stark reality is that over the last two years we missed an opportunity to commercialize the lower 3 GHz in a manner that safeguards the military’s mission-critical functions,” Attwell Baker wrote. “We commend Administrator Davidson’s comments that NTIA will ‘redouble our efforts,’ and ‘look at whether there’s possibility of relocating some systems.’ At the same time, it is frustrating that we are only doing that now given Congress’s clear direction in the Infrastructure Act to do just that two years ago.”

She also noted: “While we stalled, we saw over 30 countries jump ahead in using 3.3-3.45 GHz for advanced wireless services alongside the same systems the Pentagon uses domestically. It is noteworthy that none of those other countries are using untested or experimental dynamic sharing regimes like CBRS to provide access to this band, underscoring our need to move forward with full-power solutions ready for rapid deployment to help us catch up quickly.”

Focusing efforts on the upper midband at 7-8 GHz. Attwell Baker said that global discussions and efforts to split the 6 GHz band between unlicensed and licensed use will give other countries an additional 600 megahertz of 5G spectrum that will not be available in the U.S. due to domestic spectrum policy that “tips way too far in favor of unlicensed access. … The risk now of spectrum isolation is real, making the US a wireless technology island, cutting us off from the benefits of harmonization and diminishing our global influence. All of this leaves the 7/8 GHz band as the United States’ only opportunity for leadership in terms of providing 5G-friendly mid-band spectrum,” Attwell Baker wrote.

Read the full blog post here.


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