House Lawmakers this week discussed the future of wireless with industry and public policy experts. Much of the discussion centered around the immediate future of the FCC’s ability to conduct spectrum auctions. Without congressional intervention, the agency’s auction authority expires on September 30.
CTIA believes Congress should expeditiously extend the FCC’s auction authority. CTIA SVP Scott Bergmann testified before the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee that since it created the authority in 1993, Congress has never let it lapse.
“Last year, the FCC conducted two auctions for full-power mid-band spectrum, one for 280 MHz of C-band spectrum from 3.7-3.98 GHz, and the other for 100 MHz from 3.45-3.55 GHz,” said Bergmann. “Together, these two auctions raised over $102 billion in winning bids, and will be the backbone of wireless investment over the next few years.”
Full House Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) urged colleagues to work in a bipartisan way to extend this authority once again. “We must do this well before the FCC begins its planned auction of the 2.5 Ghz band in July, otherwise the auction will be disrupted.” Pallone also said without the extension, auctions that have already occurred “may not be able to properly close.”
Asked about this after the FCC meeting on Thursday, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel told reporters she didn’t want “to speculate on any given auction” but is aware the authority ends on September 30. Rosenworcel emphasized the agency intends to kick-off the 2.5 Ghz auction in July.
What About Other Auctions?
CTIA is also concerned there’s no other spectrum in the auction pipeline after 2.5 GHz and urged lawmakers and the agency to look at other spectrum bands. “A predictable pipeline of spectrum will do much to advance U.S. 5G interests and will help us keep delivering new innovations to the American people and match the actions foreign governments are taking,” said Bergmann.
CTIA considers the lower 3 GHz band (3.1-3.45 GHz) a top priority. “This 350 MHz swath neighbors existing full-power commercial spectrum, making it an ideal fit to provide large channels and flexibility to be aggregated with other bands,” he explained.
FCC Coordinating With Other Agencies
However, as more of the spectrum is being used, auctioning spectrum has become more complex, according to Communications and Technology Subcommittee Ranking Member Bob Latta (R-OH). “As new, commercial uses are introduced, the possibility of those use-cases raising the potential for harmful interference has put a spotlight on how the FCC makes such a decision.”
Latta said such concerns are magnified when federal agencies are using a band adjacent to a new commercial user. “Over the years, we have seen challenges with how agencies coordinate their plans for introducing new services and studying the potential for harmful interference,” he said, referring to the brawl between the FAA, the aviation industry, carriers and the FCC over 5G operations on C-band.
“With the FCC’s authority expiring at the end of this fiscal year to conduct an auction and issue licenses, it is important that the Commerce Committee review what has worked, what has not, and is able to provide necessary direction to the FCC as spectrum issues become more difficult,” Latta emphasized.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief