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Senate Commerce Circulates Fed Spectrum Bill

The draft of a senate spectrum bill was circulated over the weekend that would adjust, expand and flesh out the Spectrum Pipeline Act, a bill that was passed by the House, then the Senate, as an amendment on the omnibus budget bill, including by requiring the government to free up 50 MHz of federal spectrum for broadband, rather than the 30 MHz in the Spectrum Pipeline Act.

The spectrum would have to be auctioned by 2020, according to a discussion draft from the Senate Commerce Committee, a copy of which was obtained by B&C.  

The Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless (MOBILE NOW) Act would codify that the 500 MHz the President has directed the government to free up by 2020 would still happen under a new President.

The bill would also provide federal agencies with up to 25% of the net auction proceeds from spectrum they are directed to give up for auction in the Spectrum Pipeline Act, but only if that payment is likely to boost the net proceeds from auctioning that reclaimed spectrum.

The bill would 1) allow for leasing, rather than auctioning, federal spectrum, in some circumstances; 2) put shot clocks on federal agency permission to private entities to use federal lands for broadband facilities including towers and antennas; and 3) potentially include a "dig once" provision that would require broadband conduit to be deployed during "below-ground" infrastructure work. That would expand the pipeline bill's "dig once" provision, which requires that conduit when federal highway funds are used for road projects.

A commerce committee spokesman confirmed the bill, but said it was only a draft and changes could still be made. A discussion draft, as the name suggests, is meant to generate input, in this case as rapidly as possible, the spokesperson said.

“We are gratified to see [Senate Commerce Committee] Chairman [John] Thune follow though so soon on his statement that the spectrum provisions in the Bipartisan Budget Act were merely a down-payment on a larger spectrum plan to come," said CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker. "We look forward to working with the Chairman, his team and all the members of the Senate Commerce Committee as they work to craft a plan to ensure that America’s wireless industry leads the world in 5G just as we do today in 4G.”