Everybody in the wireless ecosystem is clamoring for Congress to reinstate the spectrum auction authority of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). One former deputy at the FCC speculates that the delay may be related to the Department of Defense (DoD) wanting to wait for a spectrum report that the NTIA is working on.

This week, nine trade associations including the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), CTIA, 5G Americas and the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA) sent a letter to Congress about the issue.

The groups noted that for the first time in 30 years, Congress had allowed the FCC’s authority to lapse. As a result, since March 9, the FCC lacks the ability to auction spectrum bands and issue wireless licenses.

They said Congress needs to act in a bipartisan effort to address spectrum policy so that key 5G wireless innovations stay in the U.S. and don’t get led by China.

“We expect five times more traffic on wireless networks in the next five years and have no new spectrum available to meet consumer and business needs,” wrote the associations. “In stark contrast, China is poised to have over 400% more 5G spectrum than the United States available for commercial use by 2027 and is working now to drive other nations to make available the same bands that are already available in China.”

They urged Congress to restore FCC auction authority “to safeguard our national security and promote our economic security with clear planning for future commercial spectrum opportunities.”

FCC leaders sent their own letter

Earlier this week the four commissioners of the FCC sent their own letter to members of key congressional committees, asking them to restore the auction authority.

They said that to date, the FCC has held 100 spectrum auctions that have raised more than $233 billion for the U.S. Treasury. “As a result, the agency’s auction program has enjoyed strong bipartisan support here at home and our efforts have been a model for regulators worldwide.”

“Importantly, the United States cannot afford to wait,” they added. “The global community will soon convene for another World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC) to determine the future of spectrum policy, and we must send a strong signal in advance of that meeting of our continued commitment to lead in coming generations of wireless technologies.”

DoD’s interest

Fierce recently spoke with Belinda Nixon, a former deputy chief in the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. Nixon is currently a partner in Perkins Coie’s Technology Transactions & Privacy Law practice. Nixon said the holdup with the auction authority reinstatement may relate to the DoD wanting to wait until the NTIA completes its assessment of the use of the 3.1-3.45 GHz spectrum.**

Nixon said the NTIA’s final report on this topic may not be published until this fall. But surely Congress could reinstate the FCC’s auction authority in the meantime with the stipulation that no auction of the 3.1-3.45 GHz spectrum would occur until after the NTIA’s report.

“The DoD does have ongoing concerns about the commercialization of the spectrum that they hold,” said Nixon. “But I think they’ve seen some benefits in some areas where they’ve had to share.”

She said with the World Radio Conference (WRC) coming up in November, the lack of FCC spectrum auction authority “makes it challenging for the U.S. to prepare because you want to present a united front when going into WRC.”

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