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Spectrum Auction Authority in Jeopardy

The FCC’s authority to conduct spectrum auctions is set to expire next week on Dec. 16. If Congress doesn’t act to extend this authority, manufacturers will lose out, as broadening commercial access to the spectrum is important for rolling out 5G networks. These next-generation networks will support advances in digitization within the industry, not to mention greater connectivity for Americans across the country.

The legislative state of play: As Urgent Communications reported in October, after Congress extended the FCC’s authority for a short period, “All recent legislative proposals addressing longer-term FCC auction authority include language extending the authority by 18 months and mandating that the agency conduct an auction of airwaves in the 3.1-3.45 GHz band.”

  • “Of course, the spectrum still has to be identified by the FCC and NTIA, so most Beltway sources doubt that completing that auction within an 18-month window is realistic.”
  • “Several sources have said that many Democrats in Congress favor extending the FCC’s auction authority for 10 years, which would enable greater stability and the development of longer-term spectrum strategies.”

Industry losing out: Private industry is at a disadvantage in spectrum distribution, according to a recent study—which reinforces the need for an auction.

  • Accenture’s research, commissioned by CTIA, found that “US wireless industry currently has access to 5% of lower mid-band spectrum, while unlicensed spectrum users have access to 7x and government users have access to 12x that amount.”
  • Meanwhile, another CTIA-backed study found that the U.S. lags behind other countries in its spectrum allocation to commercial wireless networks.

The last word: “We’ve got to make … a great spectrum comeback,” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said recently at an event hosted by R Street Institute, a D.C. think tank, as reported by Broadband Breakfast. “We’ve got to start matching that same pace and cadence that we saw [during the 2017–2021 term of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai].”

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