Long-Term Extension of Spectrum Auction Authority is Essential | Citizens Against Government Waste

Long-Term Extension of Spectrum Auction Authority is Essential

The WasteWatcher

As the clock winds down on the end of fiscal year (FY) 2022, Congress has to either pass a continuing resolution (CR) or be responsible for once again shutting down the government.  The deadline is midnight on Friday, September 30, 2022.  Among the essential items that have been included in the CR is the reauthorization of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) spectrum auction authority, which expires at the end of FY 2022.  The Senate version of the CR extends it through December 16, 2022, when funding for the federal government will again be at risk.

Given the necessity and value of spectrum auctions, a short-term extension is grossly insufficient.  Longer-term authority is necessary, and when it is provided, federal agencies must review the spectrum allocated for their use to determine if it is needed or being optimized, and then coordinate with the FCC and other agencies to ensure that sufficient spectrum is available for the deployment of 5G and eventually 6G mobile networks.  This is not only essential to ensure the U.S. maintains its global leadership in telecommunications but also as a matter of national security.  Continued hoarding by federal agencies of spectrum or unwarranted delays both before and after decisions have been made to allocate spectrum cannot be permitted, like the objections to use of the 5.9 GHz band that had been reallocated for unlicensed use by the FCC in 2020.

On September 1, 2022, the FCC completed its auction in the 2.5 GHz band (Auction 108).  The auction raised $427 million in gross proceeds and awarded licenses to 63 winning bidders, 77 percent of which were small businesses or entities serving rural communities.  Since auction authority was first provided to the FCC in 1993, they have generated more than $230 billion in revenues. 

The FCC’s balanced approach to allocating both licensed and unlicensed spectrum has enhanced the country’s communications environment and enabled new innovations that have significantly improved the economy and everyone’s daily life.  FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has noted the demands wireless communications have placed on spectrum and the need to provide more licensed use to continue deploying 5G mobile services, potentially in the 12.7 GHz-13.25 GHz band, which could be included in the anticipated new White House national spectrum strategy.  

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

A September 28, 2022, Accenture report notes that the federal government currently holds 3,300 MHz of spectrum in the lower mid-band spectrum range.  The report recommends reapportioning some of that spectrum by reallocating or sharing 350 MHz of spectrum in the 3.1-3.45 GHz band, 400 MHz in the 4.4-4.94 GHz band, and 400 MHz in the 7.125-8.4 GHz band so it can be added to the spectrum pipeline for 5G use, which would leave the federal government retaining 2,150 MHz of spectrum. 

However, getting federal agencies to relinquish spectrum for mobile use is not an easy task as evidenced by both the debates over the 5.9 GHz band that was reallocated for both unlicensed use and C-V2X automotive applications, and the post c-band auction concerns about potential aviation interference, that delayed 5G deployment in areas around airports until airplane equipment could be modernized.  Even after the delays and objections, the c-band auction was one of the most successful auctions to date, generating more than $80 billion to the U.S. Treasury. 

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 increase coordination between their two agencies to promote the efficient use of spectrum.  The MOU will improve federal coordination of spectrum to avoid the conflicts that arose in the past after carefully crafted spectrum decisions were adopted by the FCC.  Other agencies should join this agreement and it should be included as part of White House national spectrum strategy, so that potential issues with spectrum interference are resolved quickly and before a decision is made regarding reallocation.  

The short-term FCC spectrum auction authority in the CR is insufficient.  A long-term reauthorization is essential to provide the opportunity to increase the allocation of spectrum, enhance coordination among federal agencies, protect national security, and strengthen the innovation that has made America the global leader in telecommunications.