Senators Intros Legislation on Spectrum Auction to Boost Wireless 5G Networks

Two Republican senators will be unveiling legislation aimed at auctioning off certain U.S. government-owned spectrum in a bid to enhance commercial wireless 5G networks, Reuters news report said.
Kazakhstan mobile networkThis move comes after Congress allowed the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to auction spectrum to lapse in March 2023, sparking discussions regarding the repurposing or sharing of spectrum utilized by the Defense Department.

The surge in demand for spectrum usage, driven by advancements in technologies such as drones, self-driving vehicles, moon missions, and precision agriculture, has been undeniable. Notably, mobile U.S. wireless data traffic saw a record 38 percent increase in 2022.

Dubbed the “Spectrum Pipeline” bill, the proposed legislation sponsored by Senators Ted Cruz and John Thune mandates the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to identify at least 2,500 megahertz of mid-band spectrum for reallocation from federal government to non-governmental or shared use within the next five years.

According to the bill, the FCC would be required to auction off at least 1,250 megahertz of spectrum for full-power commercial wireless services, including 5G, within six years, with a minimum of 600 megahertz to be auctioned within three years.

Senator Cruz, the leading Republican on the Commerce Committee, emphasized the importance of expanding commercial access to mid-band spectrum for the U.S. to excel in next-generation wireless technologies, maintain a competitive edge over adversaries, and foster robust economic growth.

Meanwhile, the NTIA has already taken steps in November to free up additional wireless spectrum by repurposing spectrum currently designated for federal government use. However, this effort has faced criticism from Republicans for its perceived sluggishness.

In a related development, the White House National Spectrum Strategy and presidential memorandum include a study of over 2,700 MHz of spectrum for potential repurposing, encompassing more than 1,600 megahertz of mid-band spectrum.

Industry group CTIA, representing major telecom companies including AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, lauded the Cruz-Thune bill, stating that it would establish a robust pipeline of licensed spectrum to support the increasing wireless data consumption among Americans while also bolstering national security and introducing healthy competition in the home broadband market.

However, concerns have been raised by some senators about potentially reallocating spectrum used for military radar systems to commercial wireless ventures.

Over the past three decades, spectrum auctions have generated a substantial $233 billion in proceeds for the U.S. government, underlining the economic significance of spectrum management and allocation.