Congress is again kicking the can down the road on several issues important to the telecommunications industry in the U.S.

A 4,155-page omnibus spending package bill that Congress unveiled yesterday is expected to pass on Friday in order to keep the government operating.

But it punted on most issues of pressing concern in the wireless world, including a long-term extension of the FCC’s auction authority, covering the shortfall for Huawei rip and replace funding and consideration of more mid-band spectrum for wireless use.

One tiny blurb of the bill was devoted to the FCC’s auction authority, saying that it would be extended until March 9, 2023.

Traditionally, the FCC’s auction authority has been extended in 10-year increments, but this Congress just keeps renewing it for three-month time frames.

Steve Berry, president and CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), has been following this issue closely. He said he’s grateful that the Act will ensure the FCC’s spectrum auction authority does not expire, but he noted that the March deadline is less than 80 days away.

Berry also commented on Congress’ silence on the Huawei rip and replace funding shortfall.

He said it was “very disappointing” that the remaining $3.08 billion shortfall in funding for the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program was not addressed in the bill. “Many eligible small and rural carriers began work over two years ago, or are frozen without sufficient funding to begin work, to remove and replace covered equipment to answer Congress’s national security mandate to address the threat posed by Chinese equipment.”

CCA has previously pointed out that without enough funding to replace Chinese gear, small telecom operators could go out of business. And that would also affect larger mobile carriers that rely on these small networks for roaming in rural areas.

The Telecommunications Industry Association CEO David Stehlin said he “was stunned” to see that the omnibus bill does not include the remaining $3.08 billion required for the Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program.

“This program – to replace public network equipment from Chinese vendors who pose national security risks – has long had bipartisan support since it was initially created in 2019 and partially funded in 2020,” wrote Stehlin. “Without this funding from Congress, the entire program is in jeopardy, and these unsecured public networks will continue to operate while putting Americans and their information at risk.”

More mid-band spectrum

The omnibus bill also doesn’t mention making more mid-band spectrum available for wireless use. And perhaps this isn’t surprising, given the fact that Congress didn’t address the more deadline-crucial issues of long-term spectrum auction authority and Huawei rip and replace.

The most immediate spectrum of concern in the wireless industry is the 3.1-3.45 GHz. CTIA has been lobbying for auction of the spectrum, while many other stakeholders would like to see a spectrum-sharing policy similar to Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum.

There are currently intense discussions ongoing between industry stakeholders and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) who chairs the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, as well as Austin Bonner, the White House’s assistant director for Spectrum & Telecom.

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