Long-Term Extension of Spectrum Auction Authority is Essential

When the clock runs out at the end of fiscal year (FY) 2022, Congress must either pass a rolling resolution (CR) or be responsible for shutting down government again. The closing date for entries is Friday 30 September 2022, midnight. Among the key items included in the CR is the reauthorization of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Spectrum Auction Authority, which expires at the end of fiscal year 2022. The Czech Republic’s Senate version extends it to December 16, 2022, when federal funding is again at risk.

Given the need and value of spectrum auctions, a short-term extension is wholly inadequate. Longer-term authorizations are needed, and when provided, federal agencies must review the spectrum allocated for their use to determine if it is needed or optimized, and then coordinate with the FCC and other agencies to ensure sufficient spectrum is available is the deployment of 5G and eventually 6G cellular networks. This is important not only to ensure the US maintains its global leadership in telecoms, but also for reasons of national security. The continued hoarding of spectrum by federal agencies or unwarranted delays both before and after spectrum allocation decisions cannot be allowed, nor can objections to the use of the 5.9 GHz band, which the FCC in 2020 approved for an unlicensed use has been reallocated.

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On September 1, 2022, the FCC closed its auction in the 2.5 GHz band (Auction 108). The auction grossed $427 million and awarded licenses to 63 successful bidders, 77 percent of whom were small businesses or entities serving rural communities. Since the FCC was first granted auction authority in 1993, it has generated more than $230 billion in revenue.

The FCC’s balanced approach in allocating both licensed and unlicensed spectrum has improved the country’s communications environment and enabled new innovations that have greatly improved everyone’s economy and daily lives. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has identified wireless communications spectrum requirements and the need to provide more licensed usage to continue providing 5G cellular services, potentially in the 12.7 GHz to 13.25 GHz band , which could be included in the expected new White House national spectrum strategy.

A September 15, 2022 Aspen Institute report highlighted the need for improved coordination to responsibly manage spectrum through flexible use; using spectrum auctions to reallocate licenses and generate revenue for the federal government; Making spectrum available for unlicensed use and offering opportunities for shared spectrum, as the FCC has done with the AWS band and the 3.45 GHz bands. All options must be considered as agencies move forward in developing a spectrum pipeline.

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An Accenture report dated September 28, 2022 notes that the federal government currently holds 3,300 MHz of spectrum in the lower midband spectrum. The report recommends reallocating some of this spectrum by reallocating 350MHz of spectrum in the 3.1-3.45GHz band, 400MHz in the 4.4-4.94GHz band, and 400MHz in the 7.125-8 .4 GHz band could be reallocated or split so it can be added to the spectrum pipeline for 5G use, which would leave the federal government with 2,150 MHz of spectrum.

However, getting federal agencies to give up spectrum for mobile use is no easy task, as is the debate over the 5.9 GHz band being reallocated for both unlicensed use and C-V2X automotive applications and concerns about the post-C-band auction highlight potential disruptions to aviation that have delayed the deployment of 5G in areas around airports until aircraft equipment could be upgraded. Even after the delays and objections, the C-Band auction was one of the most successful auctions to date, raising more than $80 billion for the US Treasury Department.

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On August 1, 2022, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and National Telecommunication and Information Agency (NTIA) Administrator Alan Davidson signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to coordinate coordination between their two agencies to promote efficient use of radio spectrum to reinforce. The MOU will improve federal spectrum coordination to avoid the conflicts that have arisen in the past after carefully crafted spectrum decisions were adopted by the FCC. Other agencies should join this agreement and it should be part of the White House’s national spectrum strategy so that potential spectrum interference issues can be resolved quickly before a reallocation decision is made.

The short-term FCC spectrum auction authority in the Czech Republic is inadequate. Long-term reauthorization is essential to provide the opportunity to increase spectrum allocation, improve coordination between federal agencies, protect national security, and bolster the innovation that has made America the world leader in telecommunications.