FCC Readies Third 5G Spectrum Auction

The Federal Communications Commission made moves Friday aimed at accelerating the deployment of 5G wireless services -- announcing plans for its third auction of 5G spectrum and creating a $20 billion fund to help finance 5G broadband deployment in rural communities.

The auction, slated for Dec. 10, will be the largest in American history, involving about 3.4 GHz in three different spectrum bands, according to the FCC.


“For those who aren’t wireless experts, that’s a lot of spectrum,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said at a White House event announcing the initiative.

Since November 2018 the agency has auctioned 1.55 GHz of spectrum to be used by commercial wireless providers for 5G connectivity.

The auction is part of Pai’s 5G FAST Plan -- Facilitate America's Superiority in 5G Technology -- which has three key components: (1) pushing more spectrum into the marketplace, (2) promoting 5G wireless infrastructure, and (3) modernizing outdated regulations.

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In addition, Pai also announced his intent to create the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which will inject $20.4 billion into high-speed broadband networks in rural America over the next decade. The program will provide funding through a reverse auction to service providers that will deploy infrastructure, providing up to 1 gigabit-speed broadband in less densely populated areas of the country.

“This money will extend high-speed broadband to up to four million homes and small businesses in rural America,” Pai said at the White House event. “These next-generation networks will bring greater economic opportunity to America’s Heartland and will help support future 5G technologies.”

ACA Connects CEO Matt Polka cheered the creation of the rural fund.

“Since 2011, the FCC has been dedicated to the mission of ensuring all Americans have access to broadband service, and last year the FCC demonstrated the great value of using reverse auctions to achieve that goal,” Polka said in a statement. “Authorized winning providers of that auction will deploy more expeditiously more robust broadband service than in the FCC’s Phase II cost model program and do so with far less government support.

“For that reason, ACA Connects in recent testimony before Congress and in FCC filings has called for the FCC to accelerate the award of funding to unserved locations in price cap carrier areas by reverse auctions,” Polka continued. “Today’s announcement takes a big step in that direction. We look forward to working with the FCC to ensure that rules for the new fund prohibit overbuilding of existing providers, enable all providers to participate on a reasonable basis, and give unserved consumers access to robust broadband service.”

The Trump Administration has been a big proponent of 5G technology and has pushed hard for the U.S. to be at the forefront of deployment of the service. In his remarks, Pai noted that Cisco predicted in three years, 5G would be more than twice as prevalent in North America as in Asia.

“Last week, CTIA reported that ‘America leads the world with the most commercial 5G deployments of any nation,’” Pai continued. “And on Tuesday, it was reported that 5G-related job listings increased 12% in just the past three weeks, according to data from an online job search service. Today, 5G is a success story—an American success story.”

The FCC completed its first 5G spectrum auction in January, generating nearly $2 billion in bids. The agency has also made strides in eliminating regulations to make it easier to install 5G infrastructure and has taken action to encourage the deployment of fiber networks.