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Industry groups push Congress for access to government spectrum

John Thune Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)

Once the Federal Communications Commission wraps up the broadcast incentive auction, now tentatively planned to begin March 29, 2016, there is no other spectrum in the pipeline that can be transferred to commercial mobile services. That’s triggered increasing pressure on Congress to free up government-controlled spectrum to meet the demand for wireless data services.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, former FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and former FCC commissioner Robert M. McDowell called on Congress to create financial incentives for federal agencies to cough up unused government spectrum, to promote spectrum sharing, and to free up additional spectrum for unlicensed use.

“Congress can create financial incentives—such as allowing government agencies to share in auction proceeds—to encourage agencies like the Pentagon or the Transportation Department to relinquish spectrum that they aren’t efficiently using. But if the agencies balk, Congress should make them give it up,” wrote Genachowski and McDowell.

The American Enterprise Institute is promoting a blog post by Roslyn Layton, a visiting fellow at AEI’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy, calling on the FCC to develop a meaningful plan to get government agencies to relinquish some of the spectrum.

And the CTIA has issued a white paper detailing the average 13-year lag between proposal to deployment for a new block of spectrum, and bemoaning the lack of a spectrum pipeline to follow the broadcast incentive auction.

Congress has already taken some first steps.

In June 2015, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced the Wireless Innovation Act of 2015 (S. 1618), which is co-sponsored by Sens. Ayotte (R-N.H.), Cruz (R-Texas), Gardner (R-Colo.), Johnson(R-Wis.), and Wicker (R-Miss.) to free up spectrum currently held by federal government entities and repurpose it for commercial use. Another bill, the Federal Spectrum Incentive Act of 2015 (S.887) introduced by Sens. Markey (D-Mass.) and Fischer (R-Neb.) would permit federal entities to relinquish spectrum assignments in exchange for a percentage of the auction proceeds. This bill is a companion to H.R. 1641, introduced by Reps. Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Matsui (D-Calif.) in the House.

On Wednesday, the Senate commerce, science, and transportation committee, will hear from five witnesses about the role Congress should play in promoting wireless broadband deployment.

Here’s where the witness have already advocated:

  • FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has backed incentives for federal agencies to free up more federal spectrum for commercial use.
  • Dr. Pierre de Vries, co-director of the Spectrum Policy Initiative, Silicon Flatirons Center at the University of Colorado School of Law has argued for policy changes that would allow agencies and wireless companies to reach mutually acceptable, efficiency-enhancing agreements for spectrum use.
  • Dr. Thomas Lenard, president and senior fellow, Technology Policy Institute has argued that OMB should create federal employee incentive plans for devising efficient use of spectrum.
  • Mr. Blair Levin, former executive director, National Broadband Plan stressed the need to lower the cost of network deployment, including by improving access to critical information, rights of ways, and facilities.
  • Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO, CTIA-The Wireless Association has advocated that policymakers must create a “spectrum pipeline,” since no spectrum has been identified for future auctions following the 2016 broadcast incentive auction.