Hill Praises FCC Spectrum Moves

The FCC drew applause from some high profile legislators for its two unanimous decisions March 31 to free up more spectrum for mobile wireless broadband, but a split decision among wireless carriers.

Those were votes on the framework for the 65 Mhz of spectrum being auctioned in the AWS3 band, and to loosen rules to allow for unlicensed Wi-Fi use of lower 5 GHz band for things like cable hot-spots.

Congressman Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, today issued the following joint statement after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it is moving forward on the 5 GHz band.

"We are pleased that the FCC has demonstrated its commitment to the 5 GHz spectrum band, allowing flexibility for America's innovators to tap into unlicensed spectrum and begin the development of next generation Wi-Fi devices and technologies,” said Latta and Matsui in a joint statement.

"Now it is time that the FCC turn its attention to the rest of the 5 GHz band to unleash even more unlicensed spectrum for consumers and innovators. We support current efforts by the U.S. technology and auto industries to find a workable solution to the remainder of the 5 GHz spectrum band. We encourage all stakeholders to work diligently to find a middle ground that will spur American innovation and improve car safety, and we will continue to work with our colleagues, relevant agencies and stakeholders to help move the ball forward."

“I applaud the bipartisan, unanimous vote by the FCC to make available 65 MHz of prime spectrum for auction and to open up another 100 MHz of spectrum in the 5 GHz band for Wi-Fi services," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

"Congress passed the Public Safety and Spectrum Act in 2012 directing the FCC to auction the AWS3 band by 2015 and to expand Wi-Fi services in the 5 GHz band. I am very pleased that after years of hard work, including months of coordination between the Commission, the National Telecommunications Information Administration, and other federal users of the 1755-1780 megahertz band, we will be seeing an auction this fall to expand mobile broadband services and substantially pay for the first nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network known as FirstNet. The rules adopted by the Commission will also help promote device interoperability among large and small carriers winning the auction, while providing an opportunity for federal spectrum users to upgrade their systems and devices. This is a true win-win-win."

"Similarly, I am pleased that the Commission has taken yet another step to move our nation closer to high-speed 'gigabit Wi-Fi' in the 5 GHz band while relieving existing congestion in unlicensed services."

He said that the vote on 5 GHz showed that unlicensed and licensed can co-exist, echoing the comments of Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who suggested at the meeting that the idea it was unlicensed vs. licensed was an outdated concept.

“As part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, the commission was charged with exploring additional spectrum for unlicensed use in the 5 GHz band,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Communications Subcommittee and one of the architects of the Act on the House side. “Today’s announcement is a significant step toward unleashing the potential of 5 GHz WiFi, while minimizing the risk of interference. This additional unlicensed spectrum will help grow our economy, create jobs, and provide more WiFi for mobile devices on which so many consumers rely.”

Wireless companies were split on the AWS3 auction item.

AT&T had wanted the AWS3 licenses to be offered in larger blocks, but the FCC went a different route. “The disaggregated blocks will still draw significant interest at auction, I’m sure," said AT&T VP Joan Marsh. "Spectrum after all remains a scarce resource, and this order represents important progress in bringing this valuable spectrum to market.  Any fragmentation driven by the auction design will no doubt be fixed in the secondary market – history shows us that this is inevitable (see AWS-1).  But secondary market fixes means money was left on the table.  And where revenue is essential to pay for relocation costs and to meet other U.S. priorities, that should matter.”

T-Mobile was all for the smaller blocks. “T-Mobile lauds the decision of the FCC today to modify the proposed AWS-3 band plan to create more 5x5 MHz spectrum blocks," said Kathleen O'Brien Ham, T-Mobile VP. "This pro-competitive decision will provide carriers of all sizes an opportunity to win this valuable spectrum.  As we look forward to an auction, T-Mobile encourages the Defense Department and other federal agencies to continue close coordination with all stakeholders to ensure the smooth transition of this spectrum for commercial use.”

Verizon was OK with it. "Today’s action by the FCC lays the groundwork for bringing 65 MHZ of government spectrum to auction for commercial use," the company said. "When we look at mobile broadband demand in America – both today and what we are expecting in the future – the need for additional spectrum is beyond debate. This AWS3 spectrum will enable wireless companies to meet consumer expectations, particularly those using 4G LTE networks. We applaud the collaborative efforts of the FCC, Congress, NTIA, the Department of Defense, and the wireless industry, that will allow America’s highly competitive wireless industry to continue to invest in and deploy mobile networks that drive innovation and meet consumers’ needs.”

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.