Nation Can’t Afford to Wait for Spectrum Authority, Say Key House Lawmakers


Planned Tuesday House subcommittee hearing with all five FCC commissioners postponed because of the death of Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s father.

Joel Leighton Nation Can't Afford to Wait for Spectrum Authority, Say Key House Lawmakers Photo of Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., in 2022, by Andrea Price from Sacramento State University.

WASHINGTON, May 6, 2024 – House Commerce Subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta, R-Ohio, and Rep. Doris Matsui, D-California, used appearances at a 5G summit Monday to call for a restoration of the Federal Communications Commission’s spectrum auction authority.

The FCC lost the authority to conduct spectrum auctions on March 9, 2023. Matsui, ranking member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee that Latta chairs, called the continued suspension a “failure” and reiterated the need for Congress to return the authority to the FCC. 

“I don’t think we can afford to wait any longer. Congress needs a deal to reassert auction authority immediately,” she said, also citing “alarming circumstances” caused by the suspension of auction authority. The summit also hosted representatives from wireless carrier Verizon and equipment manufacturer Ericsson, who echoed the same sentiment.

Multiple speakers pointed to the U.S.’s trailing in 5G deployment among global competitors. Without new spectrum, speakers said, wireless companies are severely hindered in their expansion.

Matsui said she is working with colleagues to address the situation in Congress, and cited the National Spectrum Strategy and the Presidential Memorandum on Spectrum as a working roadmap for maximizing limited spectrum resources.

All about spectrum

CTIA President Meredith Baker opened the wireless association’s summit by highlighting the urgent need for new spectrum. According to Baker, approximately four hundred megahertz will be required to maintain this demand through 2027.

 “Spectrum is the lifeblood, but we have no blueprint for when we will get more in the United States,” Baker said.

The U.S. situation is in stark contrast to the expanding spectrum auctions occurring across the world. According to Baker, China will have four times the mid-band spectrum compared to the U.S by 2027. 

In particular, Latta emphasized China’s expanding wireless influence as a reason to restore auction authority. 

“We’ve got to move things faster and move things forward,” Latta said. “The United States should be leading and never following.”

Latta called the prospects of a second year cycle without spectrum auction authority “unbelievable.” Auctions have provided $233 billion of revenue directly to the U.S. Treasury since 1994, he said. Wireless companies enabled by spectrum have contributed trillions to the economy.

“I’m confident we’re going to get it done, because we have to get it done,” he said. Rep. Latta invited industry leaders to contact his office with suggestions over spectrum policy development. 

A plug for the Affordable Connectivity Program

Matsui also emphasized the importance of preserving the Affordable Connectivity Program, and likewise asked for industry participation in this effort. Matsui said ACP has assisted 23 million households.

“I’m asking everyone in this room to keep fighting, get loud about this,” said Matsui. “Make sure everyone in Congress fully appreciates what’s at stake.”

The Senate Commerce Committee had been scheduled to vote in a markup session on a proposed bill to reinstate the FCC’s authority on May 1, but Cantwell postponed the markup session.

Separately, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications has postponed Tuesday’s FCC oversight hearing, at which all five FCC Commissioners were to appear. The hearing was postponed because of the death of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s father.

Correction: A previous version of this story reporting that the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications oversight hearing was postponed incorrectly reported that the previously-scheduled hearing was for Wednesday, rather than for Tuesday. The story has been corrected.