Cantwell Releases Draft Legislation to Restore FCC Auction Authority, Fund ACP, Rip and Replace


The Senate Commerce Committee is planning to vote on the bill at its May 1 markup

Jake Neenan Cantwell Releases Draft Legislation to Restore FCC Auction Authority, Fund ACP, Rip and Replace Photo of Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., from Medium

WASHINGTON, April 25, 2024 – Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, is aiming to introduce a bill that would restore the Federal Communications Commission’s spectrum auction authority for five years, as well as provide funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program and the rip and replace program. The committee is planning to vote on the bill May 1.

A discussion draft of the Spectrum and National Security Act was posted Thursday with the markup announcement

In addition to reinstating the FCC’s auction authority until September 2029, the bill would allow the commission to borrow from the Treasury $5 billion to shore up the imperiled ACP and another $3 billion to finish reimbursing providers for swapping out Chinese-made network equipment. Proceeds from future spectrum auctions would be earmarked for paying back those loans.

The FCC’s ability to auction off spectrum bands to commercial users lapsed more than a year ago in March 2023 amid uncertainty about whether a Defense Department band could be shared. Wireless industry groups and commissioners have been pushing Congress to reinstate the agency’s authority, but other legislative attempts have so far stalled.

That’s in part because of a delayed DoD study which ultimately concluded its lower 3 gigahertz band, eyed by industry for 5G use, could not currently be shared.

Thursday’s proposal would mandate the auction of the upper 12 GHz band within three years. It would also double down on the White House’s spectrum strategy by tapping the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to study spectrum bands currently used by the federal government and by focusing on spectrum sharing.

Bands set to be studied include the 7 and 8 GHz bands, to determine whether they could be partially or completely opened up to commercial users, as well as a look at the 37 GHz band for shared federal and non-federal use.

The NTIA would also be required to set up testbeds for dynamic spectrum sharing systems like the CBRS, and set aside FCC auction proceeds for researching the technology.

The bill highlights differences between the committee’s Democratic and Republican members on spectrum policy. Ranking Member Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and John Thune, R-South Dakota, introduced a reauthorization bill in March that would have mandated the auction of more licensed spectrum, but without earmarking proceeds for the ailing ACP or rip and replace.

Mobile carriers, many of which rely more on fully licensed, unshared spectrum, would have liked to see less of an emphasis on spectrum sharing.

“While renewing FCC spectrum auction authority is critical, we are concerned that the Spectrum and National Security Act of 2024 focuses too much on the complex topic of dynamic spectrum sharing and omits a pipeline of much-needed mid-band spectrum to meet growing consumer demand,” Meredith Atwell Baker, president of wireless trade group CTIA, said in a statement. “Research shows that America’s wireless networks need hundreds of megahertz of additional full-power, licensed spectrum within the next ten years.”

Proponents of spectrum sharing were pleased.

“Chairwoman Cantwell’s proposal rightly recognizes that dynamic sharing is vital to maximizing limited spectrum, and consistent with the findings of the [DoD] report, will help make that vision a reality,” Tamarah Smith, a Spectrum for the Future spokesperson, said in a statement. The group includes consumer advocates and companies that use CBRS spectrum.