Would light fire under FCC spectrum search

A coalition of telco ISPs, app developers, consumer tech companies and others are pushing Congress to pass a bill freeing up more spectrum for 5G wireless broadband.

That came in letters to the co-sponsors of the bipartisan Advancing Innovation and Reinvigorating Widespread Access to Viable Electromagnetic Spectrum (AIRWAVES) Act, Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Reps. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Leonard Lance (R-Pa.).

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That is already an avowed goal of the FCC under chair Ajit Pai --the FCC last week took further steps to free up mid- and high-band spectrum for 5G, for example, but the legislators aren't taking any chances.

"This bipartisan legislation is critical for the United States to produce a pipeline of spectrum necessary to reap the benefits that next-generation 5G wireless networks and new opportunities for unlicensed services will generate for U.S. consumers, innovation and economic growth," the groups wrote.

CTIA, the Consumer Technology Association, Public Knowledge and ACT The App Association were among the groups signing on to the letter of support.

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The bill requires the FCC to hold auctions in each of the next three years that grant spectrum licenses in various bands, and for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to identify the frequencies for either commercial licensed use or non-federal unlicensed use, and directs the FCC to allocate 10% of the auction proceeds to fund wireless infrastructure in unserved or underserved rural areas. 

The CTIA pointed out that the latter would have meant more than $6 billion for rural broadband had the legislation been in effect for the last two FCC auctions -- the AWS-3 and broadcast incentive auctions, which together raised close to $65 billion.

The FCC will also have to conduct a study of how unlicensed spectrum can be used for rural healthcare, distance learning and agriculture.

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A similar bill has been introduced in the House.

The groups said the bill will help the U.S. win the global race to 5G, drive economic growth and innovation and help close the rural digital divide.

“I am pleased to hear from so many organizations expressing their support for the bipartisan AIRWAVES Act that I introduced with my colleague Senator Cory Gardner,” Senator Hassan told Multichannel News in an e-mail. “The broad support for this commonsense bill indicates just how important enhancing wireless services is to our people, businesses, and economy. I also welcome the recognition from these groups about the importance of the AIRWAVES Act in helping to close the urban-rural digital divide that has persisted for far too long in New Hampshire and across the country. I’ll keep working with key stakeholders and members of both parties to ensure that all of our people have access to the wireless services they need to thrive in the 21 century innovation economy.”

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