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FCC's Pai Joins Call for Congress to Ax T-Band Auction

FCC chair Ajit Pai has called on Congress to repeal the mandate that the FCC auction the T-Band* (470-512 MHz) spectrum. He suggested he had good reason: The move won't work.

“In 2012, Congress passed legislation [the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act] requiring the FCC to reallocate and auction T-Band spectrum used for decades by public safety licensees and fund the relocation of those licensees elsewhere," said Pai. "The agency has extensively analyzed the T-Band and concluded that moving forward is not viable—relocation costs for public safety licensees would likely far exceed any potential auction revenue, making it impossible to fund the relocation and comply with the mandate. The Government Accountability Office has agreed—reporting to Congress that the T-Band mandate is unworkable and could deprive first responders of their current ability to communicate by radio.”

Related: Senate Dems Say T-Band Must Be Protected

Pai called on Congress to reverse that requirement ASAP and said that would allow FCC staffers to focus on upcoming 5G auctions in the 3.5 GHz and 3.7 GHz (C-Band) bands.

Pai's call notwithstanding, citing the fact that there is still a mandate to auction the T-Band in 2021, the FCC Monday suspended the processing of applications for T-Band licenses, including renewals, which could also light a fire under the Hill.

In an unusual show of support by one of the strongest critics of Pai, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) praised the chairman. He had good reason, too. Markey is co-sponsor of a self-explanatory bill, the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act.

Co-sponsors of the act also include Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (both D-N.Y.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

“Supporting the brave women and men in police and fire departments across the county and giving them the tools they need to succeed isn’t a partisan issue,” said Markey. “I commend [chairman] Pai for joining the coalition of public safety organizations and industry actors alike calling on Congress to protect the T-Band. It’s time for Congress to do right by the people who keep us safe and secure and pass my Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act before the end of the year.”

*According to the FCC, the T-Band "consists of otherwise unused broadcast spectrum in TV channels 14-20 in 11 cities. It contains approximately 925 public safety entities and 700 industrial/business entities. T-Band provides push-to-talk, mission-critical voice communications for local government, law enforcement, and first responder entities (including fire management, emergency medical, road maintenance, transit, public works, and others)." 

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.