Pai Advisor: FCC Can't Hold Another Big Spectrum Auction

Agency would need help from Congress first

A top advisor to FCC chair Ajit Pai said the agency could not hold another big spectrum auction like the broadcast incentive auction or the previous AWS-3 wireless spectrum auction, both of which freed up spectrum for more and faster wireless broadband.

Rachael Bender, in a speech to the 6th Annual Americas Spectrum Management Conference in Washington, said the potential "stumbling block" on the path to the rollout of 5G mobile broadband is that while the law allows the FCC to keep auction upfront payments in an interest-bearing account, as a result of financial regulations on collateralizing deposits, no financial institution is willing to hold such payments in an interest-bearing account.

Related: FCC Accepts Latest Batch of Auction License Applications

As a result, she said flatly, "So the Commission currently has no way to comply with the law or move forward with a large spectrum auction."

Bender said the good news is an FCC reauthorization bill that was referred to the full House Energy & Commerce Committee this week.

One provision of that multi-provision bill would fix the issue and clear the way for more auctions, she said: The bill would direct the upfront payments to be held by the Treasury instead.

"Getting this proposal signed into law would have a big impact on our ability to move forward with the mid-band and high-band spectrum auctions that are necessary for 5G deployment," she said.

The bill was referred unanimously, but there remain issues that will have to be hammered out in the full committee, said some Democrats this week. Those include how much funding will go to broadcasters for repacking their channels in the wake of the FCC's most recent big auction, the broadcast incentive auction.