Legislators Unite to Fund Spectrum Repurposing Research

A bipartisan, bicameral bill has been introduced to insure there is enough money to fund efforts to get federal spectrum users to give up spectrum or share spectrum with commercial users.

Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) in the Senate, and Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) in the House have introduced the Supplementing the Pipeline for Efficient Control of The Resources for Users Making New Opportunities for Wireless (SPECTRUM NOW) Act. It "would allow the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in consultation with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), to use existing Spectrum Relocation Fund (SRF) funding (approximately $8 billion) to support research-related activities that examine the feasibility of federal spectrum users relocating or sharing spectrum with non-federal users as long as those monies are not already obligated to support federal agencies."

The SRF was created in 2004, but in 2015, the Spectrum Pipeline Act broadened the expenses that could be covered by the fund and, while it also authorized $500 million specifically to exploring spectrum re-purposing, that money is running out, say the Senators.

But the bill also says the SRF research money can only be spent if 1) "a research and development (R&D) plan by the incumbent federal spectrum user to explore relocating of sharing spectrum has been submitted and approved by the Technical Panel, which was established by Congress and is composed of three members representing the NTIA, OMB, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC); 2) as of the date of certification to Congress by NTIA and OMB that the R&D plan is approved, Spectrum Pipeline Act funds are insufficient to support that R&D plan; and 3) R&D payments will leave sufficient amounts in the SRF to complete ongoing transition plans from previous auctions."

“The ultimate success of next generation communications networks will depend on the United States using finite wireless spectrum more efficiently,” Wicker said in a statement. “It is important for Congress to consider ways to support innovation in this crucial sector and to free up existing resources accordingly.”

“As demand for licensed and unlicensed spectrum continues to grow, we need to find new ways to maximize our country’s spectrum resources,” said Schatz of the new bill. “By freeing up more licensed spectrum, we can give innovators a strong foundation for building new technologies and help grow an industry that fuels our national economy.”

“This bill makes it possible for federal agencies to more efficiently and innovatively use spectrum and, in turn, provide new opportunities for spectrum to be re-purposed for commercial use," said Matsui.

Related: House Joins Senate in Trying to Free Up More Spectrum

“Freeing up spectrum is key to furthering innovation and increasing high-speed internet access across the country,” said Guthrie.

“The AWS-3 spectrum auction proved that providing additional funds for spectrum research is money well spent, and reforms included in the SPECTRUM NOW Act have the potential to produce positive results," said Competitive Carriers Association President Steven K. Berry. “The SPECTRUM NOW Act will allow additional funds for spectrum research, including identifying best practices, which will greatly benefit the industry, the economy, and ultimately consumers."

"WISPA members across the country stand ready to deploy and innovate in rural areas to ensure reliable broadband is available in the communities that need it most," said WISPA President Claude Aiken. "We look forward to working alongside Congress to close the broadband gap and bring affordable service to the millions who lack access and choice.”

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.