Next Wave of Mid-band Spectrum Scheduled for Auction | Citizens Against Government Waste

Next Wave of Mid-band Spectrum Scheduled for Auction

The WasteWatcher

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced the timetable for  bidding on 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum licenses.  The auction will begin on July 29, 2022. 

The auction will be for 200 MHz of spectrum with approximately 8,000 new flexible-use, county-based overlay licenses, one of the largest auctions ever conducted by the FCC.  The licenses will protect the operations of incumbent licensees within the auction areas, including those who received their licenses through applications filed in the Rural Tribal Priority Window that closed in September 2020, and licensed users of the Educational Broadband Service, both of whom will be able to either maintain their usage of the spectrum or provided the opportunity to lease it out. 

Mid-band spectrum falls between the 1 GHz and the 7 GHz spectrum bands and is considered the sweet spot for 5G technology due to the efficiency of the band compared to low-band spectrum.  Mid-band spectrum provides improved transmission ranges and requires a smaller number of base stations compared to high-band spectrum, which lowers deployment costs for network providers. 

A February 23, 2022 GSMA Intelligence study found that there are strong benefits for education, healthcare, manufacturing, and public administration in deploying 5G networks across the country.  By 2030, “5G is expected to generate $960 billion in GDP on a global basis; Mid-band spectrum will drive an increase of more than $610 billion in global GDP in 2030, producing almost 65% of the overall socio-economic value generated by 5G.” 

The GSMA Intelligence study also noted that “up to 40% of the expected benefits of mid-band 5G could be lost if no additional mid-band spectrum is assigned to mobile services.”  The report recommended that to “realise the potential benefits, countries must fulfil mid-band needs in harmonized ranges including 3.5 GHz, 4.8 GHz, and 6 GHz to deliver economies of scale and lower broadband costs.”

Despite the need for continued progress in deploying 5G, including retaining U.S. global leadership in telecommunications, some federal agencies are seeking to reverse or delay FCC licensing decisions.  Such was the case in November 2021, when the Federal Aviation Administration made a last-minute pitch to disrupt 5G deployment in the C-band by claiming it would disrupt navigation systems in airplanes if it was deployed in and around airports, even though the agency had ample opportunity to weigh in on the use of this mid-band spectrum for 5G during the FCC’s comment period and before the FCC C-band auction took place.  Thankfully, this spectrum is now being deployed and more Americans across the country are seeing the benefits 5G networks are bringing to their lives, without the claimed interference with airline safety that was raised last November.  

Other federal agencies have also attempted to disrupt FCC auctions.  This is one reason why the memorandum of understanding on spectrum that the FCC signed with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is so critical for future spectrum allocations.  These other agencies must be encouraged to join the MOU, so that there can be greater coordination among federal agencies on spectrum use.

The 2.5 GHz auction comes near the end of the FCC’s current congressionally authorized auction authority, which expires on September 30, 2022, and must be renewed by Congress for any further spectrum auctions.  This expiration date presents an opportunity for members of Congress to review the success of the FCC’s auction processes and help determine the future for 5G spectrum to enable next generation technology and innovation.  

On March 2, 2022, Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband Ranking Member John Thune (R-S.D.) sent a letter to FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel asking her to provide information on policy reforms and future spectrum auctions that would increase the efficient use of spectrum, speed up deployment of 5G and other new technologies, and improve international competitiveness.  The senators noted the progress that has been made on spectrum allocation and their interest in working together with the FCC to ensure that effective use of spectrum continues into the future.

The reauthorization of the FCC’s spectrum authority must be bipartisan and build on the success of the past decade, during which the agency has balanced licensed and unlicensed use, withstood significant resistance from federal agencies, and overcome many obstacles to efficient and reasonable allocation of spectrum.  The 2.5 GHz auction should stand as another reminder of why Congress must sweep aside as many impediments as possible to making more spectrum available when it renews the FCC’s spectrum authorization.