Senators Unveil Bill to Restore FCC’s Auction Authority, Identify New Spectrum

UPDATE The wireless infrastructure industry applauded legislation introduced to restore the FCC’s spectrum auction authority and expand commercial access to mid-band spectrum. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and John Thune (R-SD) authored the Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2024, which caps a year-long effort to develop a law that requires the NTIA to reallocate spectrum and the FCC to auction it. Industry trade associations WIA, NATE and CTIA praised the effort.

The FCC lost its spectrum auction authority one year ago on March 9, when Congress failed for the first time in 30 years to renew it, Inside Towers reported. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, and the telecom industry, have repeatedly urged lawmakers to restore it. “I have a bunch of bands that are sitting in the closet,” Rosenworcel told lawmakers at a House oversight hearing in November.  

“More commercial spectrum means improved mobile service, increased broadband competition, and a stronger U.S. economy. It has been a year since the FCC’s auction authority expired, and we urgently need to make more spectrum available for commercial use,” said WIA President/CEO Patrick Halley. “I applaud Senators Cruz and Thune for introducing the Spectrum Pipeline Act which would restore the FCC’s auction authority and identify a robust pipeline of new spectrum that will enhance U.S. wireless leadership.” 

Todd Schlekeway, president and CEO of NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association, called the measure “timely and critical.” 

“The Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2024 serves to renew the FCC’s spectrum auction authority and expands commercial access to mid-band spectrum that is necessary to unleash the potential of next generation wireless networks to the American economy,” said Schlekeway. “Additionally, more access to commercial spectrum means more deployment opportunities for NATE member contractors who turn these valuable airwaves into connectivity. NATE urges swift, bipartisan support for this important legislation so it can become law in an expedient manner.”

CTIA, too, praised the bill. “We thank the Senators for their leadership in pursuing the needed action to restore the FCC’s auction authority and create a strong pipeline of full-power, licensed spectrum that will support Americans’ growing wireless data use, protect our national security, and infuse real competition in the home broadband market,” said CTIA President/CEO Meredith Attwell Baker. “We look forward to working with Congress on legislation that will ensure the wireless industry can continue to build wireless networks that offer competitive consumer home broadband options, support cutting-edge innovation, and help the U.S. lead the world in wireless.”

If passed, the Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2024 would require the NTIA to identify at least 2,500 MHz of mid-band spectrum that can be reallocated from federal use to non-federal or shared use in the next five years (including at least 1,250 MHz in the next two years).

The FCC, in turn, would be required to auction at least 600 MHz within three years and an additional 650 MHz of spectrum in six years for full-power commercial wireless services, including 5G. The law seeks to encourage innovation by requiring the FCC to allocate at least 125 MHz of additional spectrum for unlicensed services. Technology-neutral innovation would be encouraged in the remaining 1,125 MHz of spectrum identified by NTIA.

The FCC and NTIA would be required to submit to Congress annual progress reports as well as reports within 60 days of each identification made by NTIA. Spectrum auction proceeds could be used by federal agencies for the purchase of new equipment.

By J. Sharpe Smith, Inside Towers Technology Editor and Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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