House E&C Leaders Decry Looming Lapse of FCC Spectrum Auction Authority

Capitol Building

The FCC’s authority to auction spectrum was set to expire Thursday (March 9) after the Senate failed to pass a bill to extend it, prompting bipartisan pushback from House leadership.

The House last month passed H.R. 1108, which at least would have extended the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to May 19, but the Senate failed to follow suit before that authority expired.

The FCC’s authority was set to expire September 30, 2022, but was extended to December 16, then to December 22, then December 30 then March 9, 2023.

FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel has called on Congress to pass a long-term extension.

Also: Rosenworcel Not Worried About Auction Authoroity Impact on 2.5 GHz Auction

On Friday, after the authority had officially expired, Rosenworcel weighed in on the situation.

“For three decades, the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to auction the nation’s airwaves has been an indispensable tool for harnessing the promise of new wireless technologies while also spurring economic growth, creating jobs, and strengthening our national security and global leadership," she said. " Time and time again our auctions have proven to be an enormous engine for market innovation and the flourishing internet ecosystem, and for expanding the reach of next-generation connectivity to everyone, everywhere.  To date, the FCC has held 100 auctions and has raised more than $233 billion in revenues and unlocked extraordinary benefits for the American people.  

“It is my hope that the FCC’s auction authority is restored quickly so that this important program is once again able to produce results for consumers and the economy.”

In a joint statement, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), Communications Subcommittee Chair Bob Latta (R-Ohio), and Subcommittee Ranking Member Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) said they were disappointed that a single senator — they did not name names — was able to hold up passage of the bill, resulting in the first time the FCC has lost spectrum auction authority since its inception three decades ago.

“Extending the FCC’s spectrum auction authority is vital to maintaining American leadership in wireless technology, providing certainty to the public, and securing our global competitive edge — including against countries like China that do not share our fundamental values of democracy, free speech and human rights,” they said.

In 1993, Congress authorized the FCC to grant licenses via competitive bidding, bringing in billions of dollars for the treasury.

In a report on FCC spectrum auction authority, the Congressional Research Service warned that allowing the authority to expire will create potential uncertainty “for both agencies and industry.” ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.