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Congress Lets FCC Spectrum Auction Authorization Lapse

Spectrum auctions held by the FCC have radically altered the RF landscape in recent years; now its authority to hold those auctions has lapsed due to congressional inaction.

Photo: Future.
Photo: Future.

Washington, D.C. (March 13, 2023)—The FCC’s authority to regulate spectrum auctions expired on Friday after a Senate vote to renew its authority failed to pass on Thursday.

The FCC has had responsibility over the management of spectrum auctions for more than 30 years and in 2017, in particular, raised nearly $20 billion in selling off portions of the broadcast spectrum. The House approved reauthorization in February but the Senate failed to pass the resolution amid disagreement on military spectrum needs.

House Energy & Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), one of two sponsors of the legislation tore into senators on Friday. “For reasons unknown to me, certain senators decided to risk U.S. wireless leadership over a date change,” she said during a hearing. “A date change. That is unacceptable.”

Sen. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the co-sponsor with McMorris Rodgers, was equally critical: “Yesterday, for the first time since the agency gained this authority 30 years ago, Congress failed to extend it when the Senate refused to act,” he said. “The House did its work — we unanimously passed a bipartisan bill introduced by me and Chair Rodgers last month to extend the spectrum auction authority to May 19th. Our legislation would have prevented this lapse in authority. I am disappointed that the Senate did not pass the House’s bipartisan bill, but we cannot give up and our work continues.”

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In a statement issued on Friday, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel urged that action be taken to restore authorization: “For three decades, the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to auction the nation’s airwaves has been an indispensable tool for harnessing the promise of new wireless technologies while also spurring economic growth, creating jobs, and strengthening our national security and global leadership,” she said. “Time and time again our auctions have proven to be an enormous engine for market innovation and the flourishing internet ecosystem, and for expanding the reach of next-generation connectivity to everyone, everywhere. To date, the FCC has held 100 auctions and has raised more than $233 billion in revenues and unlocked extraordinary benefits for the American people.

“It is my hope that the FCC’s auction authority is restored quickly so that this important program is once again able to produce results for consumers and the economy.”

The CTIA warned that the lack of authorization could have a negative impact on the nation’s technological competitiveness: “Congress has never allowed the FCC’s spectrum auction authority to lapse until now. Since 1994 spectrum auctions have raised over $233B for the U.S. Treasury and the wireless industry has invested more than $265B to put that spectrum to work, generating $825B in GDP annually, and supporting 4.5M U.S. jobs,” Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO of the trade group CTIA said. “Without this authority and a pipeline of spectrum to meet accelerating demand for wireless broadband, the U.S. risks falling behind China and other nations to lead globally in new 5G innovations and the industries of the future. We call on Congress to act quickly to restore the FCC’s authority, and schedule the necessary future spectrum auctions so that we can secure our 5G leadership and our nation’s economic and national security.”

This article originally appeared on TV Tech.