Senate Commerce to Vote on Bill to Fund Rip & Replace and ACP

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee plans to vote on the “Spectrum and National Security Act of 2024” this week. The measure would reinstate the FCC’s spectrum auction authority for five years and identify spectrum to study for potential commercial use.

It would enable the FCC to borrow money from the U.S. Treasury to make up the $3 billion shortfall in the FCC’s Rip & Replace reimbursement program and $5 billion to extend the Affordable Connectivity Program beyond April. Money from future spectrum auctions would be used to pay back the loans.  

Competitive Carriers Association President/CEO Tim Donovan said it’s “imperative that Congress immediately and fully fund” Rip & Replace. “Many program participants have reached or surpassed their prorated funding allocations and are now making painful decisions where they will have to reduce or even eliminate wireless service for their own subscribers and the tens of millions of customers roaming onto their networks because of this national security mandate. The impacts will be especially harmful for those who could lose access to 911 and emergency services.”

NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Association called the legislation “an important contribution to the ongoing deliberations regarding the U.S.’s future policy framework for spectrum and national security.” NATE President/CEO Todd Schlekeway said: “We are particularly encouraged that the proposal would fund the Rip & Replace program, which is important for securing our networks, protecting consumers from emerging cyberthreats. Additionally, the legislation would go a long way to improving workforce development efforts in the communications industry. Both improving the integrity of our communications infrastructure and preparing the next generation of the communications workforce are essential to closing the digital divide.” 

According to a draft bill, the legislation would mandate the auction of the upper 12 GHz band within three years. It also directs the NTIA to study the 7, 8 and 37 GHz bands currently used by the federal government, to determine if they could be shared for commercial use. The NTIA would be required to set up testbeds for dynamic spectrum sharing systems like the CBRS, and set aside FCC auction proceeds for researching the technology, according to Broadband Breakfast.

When available, mobile carriers prefer to rely on licensed, unshared spectrum. “While renewing FCC spectrum auction authority is critical, we are concerned that the Spectrum and National Security Act of 2024 focuses too much on the complex topic of dynamic spectrum sharing and omits a pipeline of much-needed mid-band spectrum to meet growing consumer demand, close America’s widening 5G spectrum deficit, and counter China’s drive to dominate the world’s innovation industries,” stated CTIA President/CEO Meredith Atwell Baker. “Unfortunately, the proposed legislation also steps back from key aspects of the President’s National Spectrum Strategy, such as revisiting the lower 3 GHz band for 5G, which is key to ensuring that American consumers benefit from the lower prices and faster time-to-market achieved by allocating globally harmonized bands for 5G.”

“Research shows that America’s wireless networks need hundreds of megahertz of additional full-power, licensed spectrum within the next ten years,” Baker explained. “Every day without action to address this issue risks competition in the home broadband market, our economic competitiveness, and national security with China and other countries.” Baker added that CTIA would work with the committee on the measure.

Donovan noted that “Access to spectrum is crucial for U.S. wireless ecosystem growth, innovation, and connectivity. Given limited spectrum resources, policymakers must focus on reallocating sufficient licensed, full-power spectrum to ensure that all Americans, including those in rural, underserved, and unserved areas, have access to ubiquitous connectivity.”

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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