Gardner, Hassan Introduce Legislation to Free Up Licensed, Unlicensed Spectrum

Sens. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) and Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.) introduced legislation today to free up licensed and unlicensed spectrum in low-, mid-, and high-frequency bands. The Advancing Innovation and Reinvigorating Widespread Access to Viable Electromagnetic Spectrum (AIRWAVES) Act (S 1682) would establish “a spectrum pipeline that will provide more capacity for wireless providers to improve existing service and expand to new areas,” a news release on the bill said. “The AIRWAVES Act aims to motivate industry and federal agencies to find ways to better utilize spectrum and avoid a spectrum crunch and lay the groundwork for 5G technologies. Second, this legislation requires 10 percent of all of the proceeds from spectrum auctions in the bill to go directly to wireless broadband infrastructure buildout in unserved and underserved areas throughout rural communities across the country.”

“The AIRWAVES Act is bipartisan, commonsense legislation that frees up more spectrum for commercial licensed and unlicensed users and will help bridge the divide between urban and rural Colorado,” said Sen. Gardner. “This legislation offers innovative ways to avoid a spectrum crunch, pave the way for 5G service, and provide critical resources to rural America to continue rural buildout in unserved and underserved areas throughout Colorado and the country. American companies are at the forefront of technological innovation and making more spectrum available will allow them to continue to develop and deploy cutting-edge technologies. I look forward to working with members on both sides of the aisle to advance this legislation that will benefit all four corners of Colorado.”

“So many of the wireless services we depend on — from telehealth to wireless phone service to Wi-Fi — require the use of spectrum, which is a finite resource,” said Sen. Hassan. “The bipartisan AIRWAVES Act will help ensure that there is an adequate supply of spectrum for licensed and unlicensed use, which in turn will enhance wireless services to our people, stimulate our economy, and spur innovation. Our bill also makes meaningful investments in rural broadband infrastructure in places like New Hampshire, helping to strengthen local economies and provide our businesses and hard-working Americans in rural areas with the resources they need to get ahead and stay ahead.”

The bill focuses on a variety of bands. By Dec. 31, 2018, the FCC would have to complete an auction of the 3550-3650 megahertz band. By Dec. 31, 2019, it would have to auction the 28 GHz (27.5-28.35 GHz), 37 GHz (37-38.6 GHz), and 39 GHz (38.6-40 GHz) bands, for which the FCC adopted rules last summer (TR Daily, July 14, 2016).

By Dec. 31, 2020, the FCC would have to complete an auction of bands that the FCC generally decided in a further notice last summer to study for 5G use. They are the 24-25 GHz (24.25-24.45/25.05-25.25 GHz), 32 GHz (31.8-33.4 GHz), 42 GHz (42-42.5 GHz), 48 GHz (47.2-48.2 GHz), and 51 GHz (50.4-52.6 GHz) bands.

Within one year, the FCC would have to identify spectrum between 71.25 and 84 GHz for unlicensed use – spectrum that is also part of the FCC’s further notice. If the agency finds spectrum, it should consider launching a rulemaking, the bill says.

The bill also would require the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to submit a report to Congress by Dec. 31, 2020, on the relocation of federal operations between 1300-1350 MHz and 1780-1830 MHz. Some of that spectrum is already being studied.

The bill would also amend the Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2015 to increase from 30 MHz to 100 MHz the amount of spectrum below 3 GHz that would have to be included in an NTIA report to the president and the FCC for reallocation from federal to non-federal or shared use. Also, the report would be due by July 1, 2023, rather than a year later.

As for mid-band spectrum, the bill would require the FCC, by Dec. 31, 2019, to identify the 3.7-4.2 GHz C-band for commercial licensed use, and it would require that spectrum to be auctioned by Dec. 31, 2022. The FCC plans to study use of that band in a mid-band notice of inquiry slated for a vote at its Aug. 3 meeting, and various stakeholders are seeking access to that band. The FCC also would have 180 days to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking focused on making the 5.925-7.125 GHz band available on an unlicensed basis. That spectrum is also part of the FCC’s NOI.

The measure also would require that 10% of proceeds from auctions be reserved “for the deployment of wireless infrastructure in areas that the Commission has determined are underserved or unserved with respect to wireless broadband access service.”

And the bill says that the FCC does not have to move ahead to free up spectrum if it determines that “the relocation of an incumbent from that frequency band to another equivalent frequency band … is not possible, and if the Commission determines that no mitigation technology, alternative sharing approach, or incentives-based approach would reliably prevent harmful interference to licensees …”

Also, the FCC would have to prepare a study within one year on the benefits of unlicensed spectrum for health care, distance learning, and agriculture innovation in rural areas, and the Government Accountability Office would have 180 days to complete a study on the efficiency of Spectrum Relocation Fund spending.

Another bill (the MOBILE NOW Act) that seeks to free up more spectrum, including some bands that are also listed in S 1682, is awaiting full Senate action after clearing the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in January (TR Daily, Jan. 24).

FCC Commissioners said they were pleased with the legislation introduced today. “I am grateful to Senators Gardner and Hassan for introducing the AIRWAVES Act,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “This bipartisan bill addresses an issue that’s critical to continued American leadership in wireless innovation: making available more spectrum for commercial use.  I’m also very pleased that they have proposed a ‘rural dividend,’ under which 10 percent of proceeds from spectrum auctions would be devoted to increasing wireless Internet access in rural areas.  This provision would go a long way toward closing the digital divide, which has left too many rural Americans in the analog era.  I look forward to working with Senators Gardner and Hassan on their forward-thinking legislation.”

“I applaud today’s bipartisan introduction of the Advancing Innovation and Reinvigorating Widespread Access to Viable Electromagnetic Spectrum Act (‘AIRWAVES Act’),” said Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn. “Senators Gardner and Hassan rightly highlight the need for a ‘comprehensive, technology-neutral spectrum policy that includes licensed, unlicensed, and shared use of spectrum bands.’ Ensuring that we have a steady pipeline of spectrum to meet the country’s growing need for wireless broadband is vital to our ability to remain on the cutting edge of innovation, promote entrepreneurship, and enable communities to harness the opportunities of broadband.  Notably, the bill directs the Commission to study how unlicensed spectrum can be harnessed to meet the needs of rural communities, especially with regard to healthcare, distance learning and agriculture.  I am also pleased that the bill proposes that 10 percent of competitive bidding proceeds be set aside for deployment of wireless infrastructure in underserved and unserved areas.”

“I applaud Senators Gardner and Hassan for introducing critical spectrum legislation and for their leadership on such an important issue,” said Commissioner Mike O’Rielly. “There is a lot to like in the bill, including firm spectrum deadlines and auctions for key bands. I look forward to working with them and others in Congress as the bill moves forward.”

The legislation also generally drew praise from industry entities but some pause from one industry group and a public interest advocate. “CTIA applauds Senators Gardner and Hassan for their forward-thinking, bipartisan leadership in introducing the AIRWAVES Act,” said Kelly Cole, the trade group’s senior vice president-government affairs. “This legislation provides a much-needed long-term plan to unlock valuable licensed spectrum as demand for wireless data and content continues to skyrocket. A predictable spectrum pipeline is vital to meet consumers’ need for new and innovative services and sustain U.S. global leadership in a fast-approaching 5G world. We thank Senators Gardner and Hassan and we look forward to swift movement on this important bill.”

“Spectrum is an absolutely critical resource for competitive carriers, and requiring NTIA to identify additional spectrum frequencies for commercial use marks an important step to ensuring consumers can reap the benefits of mobile broadband services.  An auction pipeline of new licenses is key to promoting economic growth and invigorating the competitive spirit throughout the industry,” said Steve Berry, president and chief executive officer of the Competitive Carriers Association. “Importantly, the AIRWAVES Act includes a rural spectrum funding mechanism, allocating ten percent of the proceeds from each auction for the deployment of mobile broadband in rural areas, in line with Chairman Pai’s Digital Empowerment Agenda.  I applaud Senators Gardner and Hassan for recognizing that many rural areas do not have mobile broadband services comparable to their urban counterparts, and for their focus on ensuring no rural area is left behind.”

Robert Fisher, SVP-federal government affairs for Verizon Communications, Inc., said, “The ‘AIRWAVES Act’ shows a clear, bipartisan understanding by Congress that the nation needs real and achievable timelines to meet the continually increasing demands for spectrum from a growing number of American consumers and businesses.  With new, next-gen wireless applications and services emerging daily, it also confirms that our nation’s leaders recognize the importance of making a range of spectrum bands available for commercial mobile broadband. We look forward to working with Senators Gardner and Hassan and the full Congress as we collectively look for ways to meet the growing demands for spectrum that will fuel innovation and new opportunities in the wireless communications ecosystem.”

“The AIRWAVES Act is a promising step in the right direction toward maintaining the United States’ leadership in wireless,” said Robert McDowell, chief public policy adviser for Mobile Future. “Ensuring that spectrum is made widely available for both licensed and unlicensed commercial use will be critical to keeping up with growing consumer demands, as well as fostering technological innovation and economic development.”

“We applaud Senators Gardner and Hassan for their efforts to free up additional spectrum for unlicensed use,” said WifiForward. “The introduction of the AIRWAVES Act is a great start and we look forward to working with the Committee to better meet the growing demand for wireless broadband, thus fostering innovation and giving American businesses and entrepreneurs the tools they need to continue to succeed in the internet economy.”

“As we charge full speed ahead into the fifth generation — or 5G — of wireless connectivity, it’s incredibly important for the U.S. to make spectrum available in low-, mid-, and high-band frequencies to meet the demands of consumers,” said Vince Jesaitis, vice president-government affairs for the Information Technology Industry Council. “For that reason, we applaud the introduction of the AIRWAVES Act by Sens. Gardner and Hassan.  This bill requires the FCC to look at making spectrum available for licensed and unlicensed use in a number of bands, while setting aggressive timelines for FCC action to ensure US leadership as the world makes the leap to widely deploying 5G.”

Doug Brake, senior telecom policy analyst for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said, “Spectrum policy should support a mix of licensing schemes to support a diversity of Internet access models, including licensed, unlicensed, and effective spectrum-sharing models. We commend Senators Gardner and Hassan for introducing the AIRWAVES Act, because the bill embraces a balanced mix of access models and helps move additional spectrum into innovators’ hands. The bill proposes that the United States repurpose spectrum for licensed and unlicensed uses and recognizes the need for additional high-, mid-, and low-band, spectrum allocated for commercial use. This approach will fuel wireless broadband expansion and provide flexibility for the diverse needs of Internet of Things applications. By putting more spectrum in the pipeline for broadband use, most notably for licensed access to the 3700 to 4200 MHz band and unlicensed access to the 6 GHz band, this bill would advance the commonsense goals of boosting innovation, expanding broadband access, and improving the spectrum-allocation process. For those reasons, the AIRWAVES Act is a welcome, bipartisan step forward.”

“The AIRWAVES Act shows that when members of Congress set aside partisan differences, we can all work together to find innovative solutions to the infrastructure challenges facing our country,” said Harold Feld, SVP of Public Knowledge. “This bill strikes an important balance in recognizing that the success of 5G wireless will need both more exclusive use spectrum for gigabit mobile networks, and more shared spectrum for next generation gigabit Wi-Fi. In particular, we applaud Senator Gardner and Senator Hassan for proposing to set aside 10 percent of the revenue from spectrum auctions to create a fund for wireless broadband infrastructure in rural America. This focuses spending directly on needed broadband infrastructure in a competitively neutral manner, without raising taxes or user fees.”

Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program in the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute (OTI), said that “Senators Gardner and Hassan deserve credit for proposing an ambitious spectrum pipeline bill that recognizes America’s wireless future will require opening access to substantially more unlicensed, licensed and shared spectrum. We particularly agree that gigabit-fast and affordable Wi-Fi can be enhanced if the FCC expands unlicensed sharing up above 5 GHz and across the entire 6 GHz band. At the same time, we look forward to working with the senators to improve the bill’s potential impact on the rural broadband gap. There is an immediate opportunity to share 500 megahertz of underutilized satellite spectrum above 3.7 GHz for more affordable rural and small town broadband that will be lost if the sole focus is raising one-time auction revenue that requires clearing satellite incumbents off the band and takes a decade to implement.”

OTI is a member of the Broadband Access Coalition, which recently filed a petition for rulemaking asking the FCC to adopt regulations to create a new licensed, point-to-multipoint (P2MP) fixed wireless service in the 3.7-4.2 GHz band, using its part 101 rules rather than auctioning the spectrum (TR Daily, June 21).

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association is also part of the Broadband Access Coalition. “WISPA thanks Senators Gardner and Hassan for consulting with WISPA and incorporating our experience as the AIRWAVES Act was drafted,” said Jimmy Carr, CEO of All Points Broadband and chairman of WISPA’s Legislative Committee.  “Although there are aspects of the bill that are inconsistent with WISPA’s preferred approach, overall we believe the bill can have a positive impact on rural Americans.”

“While WISPA believes our coalition’s proposal for the 3700-4200 MHz band will more rapidly connect rural Americans with affordable fixed broadband, we know that Senators Gardner and Hassan are deeply committed to taking substantive action that will help address the challenge of delivering broadband to underserved rural Americans,” Mr. Carr continued.  “We look forward to working with the senators as the legislation is refined, so that it can have an even greater positive effect for those rural Americans who desperately need access to affordable broadband services in their homes and businesses.”

An ad hoc coalition is seeking access to the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for licensed mobile services and access to the 6 GHz band for unlicensed usage (TR Daily, July 10).

The Satellite Industry Association, which seeks to protect the C-band used by fixed-satellite operators, had no immediate comment on the legislation introduced today. —Paul Kirby,

Courtesy TrDaily