Congress

'Airwaves' Act Would Move Fed Spectrum to Commercial Use

Hassan-Gardner bill aims to spur rural broadband, 5G buildouts 8/03/2017 11:09 AM Eastern

The Senate this week introduced bipartisan legislation that would enable the commercial use of spectrum now controlled by the federal government

Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) sponsored the "Advancing Innovation and Reinvigorating Widespread Access to Viable Electromagnetic Spectrum" (AIRWAVES) Act, which seeks to encourage more use of licensed and unlicensed bandwidth and to leverage future spectrum auctions "to help close the urban-rural divide," according to a joint statement that accompanied the bipartisan proposal.

"The AIRWAVES Act aims to motivate industry and federal agencies to find ways to better utilize spectrum and avoid a spectrum crunch and lay the groundwork for 5G technologies," the senators said.

Their plan calls for 10% of proceeds from spectrum auctions to go directly "to wireless broadband infrastructure buildout in unserved and underserved areas throughout rural communities across the country."

Related: Virginia Governor Signs Wireless Broadband Deployment Bill

The bill, S.1682, was referred to the Senate Commerce Committee, on which both Gardner and Hassan serve. The draft bill has few details about the federal spectrum that would be transferred to commercial use.

The senators said their legislation would "make more efficient use of spectrum and encourage the federal government to auction off more spectrum in a timely manner, as well as free up additional unlicensed spectrum."

“This legislation offers innovative ways to avoid a spectrum crunch, pave the way for 5G service and provide critical resources to rural America to continue rural buildout in unserved and underserved areas," Gardner said.

Hassan emphasized the growing value "of the wireless services we depend on" and said she expects the bill will "ensure that there is an adequate supply of spectrum for licensed and unlicensed use, which [will] ... stimulate our economy and spur innovation."

Related: Doyle Draft Would Promote 5G

Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai commended the bill for "making available more spectrum for commercial use" and singled out the "proposed 'rural dividend.'"

"This provision would go a long way toward closing the digital divide, which has left too many rural Americans in the analog era," Pai said.

FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly also complimented the proposal, singling out the "firm spectrum deadlines and auctions for key bands."

At advocacy group Public Knowledge, senior VP Harold Feld said the bill "strikes an important balance in recognizing that the success of 5G wireless will need both more exclusive use spectrum for gigabit mobile networks, and more shared spectrum for next generation gigabit Wi-Fi."

Feld also cited the value of the 10% set-aside to create a fund for wireless broadband infrastructure in rural America.

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