Planning for the Future of Spectrum | Citizens Against Government Waste

Planning for the Future of Spectrum

The WasteWatcher

As Congress begins its lame duck session, the passage of a continuing resolution (CR) or omnibus appropriations package to fund the government for fiscal year 2023 beyond December 16, 2022, is essential.   The next highest priority is likely passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2023, followed by the reauthorization of numerous agencies and authorities, including the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) spectrum auction authority. 

On July 27, 2022, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 7124, the Spectrum Innovation Act of 2022, which would extend the FCC’s auction authority until March 21, 2024.  Since neither this legislation nor any other extension was considered by the Senate, Congress extended the FCC’s auction authority in the fiscal year 2023 CR that passed on September 30, 2022, and expires on December 16, 2022. 

As Citizens Against Government Waste has often noted, spectrum is a scarce resource, and its uses must be carefully balanced to meet both the telecommunications and technology needs of the country along with the future of communications deployment.  Licensed network uses and unlicensed device uses are increasingly in need of more spectrum allocations as next generation mobile 5G networks are deployed across the country, and new unlicensed Wi-Fi use, using Wi-Fi 6e and soon Wi-Fi 7, continue to expand.  The federal government is one of the largest holders of spectrum, and agencies have far too often been reluctant to let it be used or shared for other purposes regardless of their current or future needs.  Congress needs to consider all of these factors in determining how it can best meet the needs for licensed, shared, and unlicensed spectrum. 

Reauthorization of the FCC auction authority has bipartisan support in the House and Senate, and its importance has been duly noted.  Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) warnedthat if the authority is not reauthorized, it “would weaken [U.S.] leadership and inject significant uncertainty into our 5G future.”  House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Chairman  Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) noted that such a failure “will hamper our ability to compete with countries like China as we need spectrum to sustain the deployment of 5G, as well as pave the way for 6G and fuel the next generation of WiFi.”

Spectrum auction authority is one of the tools that has been vital to making the U.S. the global leader in 5G and other areas of telecommunications.  It should be extended as far as possible into the future so that the FCC and agencies can provide a long-term spectrum pipeline for licensed, unlicensed, and shared use.

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