GOP Bill Would Force Federal Users to Share or Exit Spectrum

U.S. Capitol
(Image credit: Capitol)

Republicans have introduced a bill that would boost 5G by requiring the FCC to auction midband spectrum in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band by December 2021.

Related; DOD Agrees to Share Some Midband Spectrum

The bill, the Beat China By Harnessing Important, National Airwaves for 5G Act of 2020, or the Beat CHINA for 5G Act of 2020, was introduced by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee; and John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Communications Subcommittee; and in the House by Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee; Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), ranking member of the Oversight Subcommittee; and Bob Latta (R-Ohio), ranking member of the Communications Subcommittee.

“It is essential for the U.S. to win the race to 5G against China, and we need to unleash critical mid-band spectrum to get us there," the legislators said in unveiling the bill. "Freeing up the 3.45-3.55 GHz band for commercial use will propel U.S. innovation in deploying next generation technology, expanding the Internet of Things, closing the digital divide, increasing internet access for schools and students, and improving connectivity across communities."

In 2018, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) identified the 3.45-3.55 band as a candidate for repurposing and concluded that the band could be shared.

The White House has already said that 100 MHz of the band can be shared and the FCC is already working on making that happen.

But the bill would require government users in the entire band to either share or move out so that flexible-use services could move in.

Tim McKone, EVP of federal relations at AT&T signaled the bill was the right way to win the race to 5G, rather than the nationalized network the Defense Department has been considering.

“This legislation follows a letter signed last week by 19 senators who expressed concerns about deviating from the proven path of auction and private sector-led 5G deployment," said McKone. "Consistent with these views in Congress, the Administration should continue with this successful and established model to ensure that the U.S. can continue to lead the world in 5G, bringing consumers and businesses the robust mobile connectivity they demand.”

“The Beat CHINA for 5G Act rightfully focuses on the critical importance of private-sector solutions and auctioning commercial spectrum that will preserve the U.S. as the leader in 5G," said CTIA SVP Kelly Cole, who applauded the legislators behind the bill. "Quickly bringing the 3.45-3.55 GHz band to auction is critical to fueling our transition to a 5G economy, and this legislation recognizes the urgent need to put this valuable resource to its best and most efficient use.”

"Licensed mid-band spectrum is an essential component for the widespread deployment of 5G throughout the United States. At this moment, however, the U.S. is woefully behind its global rivals in the amount of spectrum available," said Verizon SVP Robert Fisher. “This legislation would go a long way to closing this gap by reinforcing the White House and Department of Defense’s decisive action this past August to transition the mid-band frequencies between 3450-3550 MHz to commercial 5G deployment by December 2021."

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.