United States – On Monday, two senior GOP Congress members are introducing a bill that compels the U.S. government to sell some of the spectrum to boost 5G-based commercial wireless services.

The Federal Communications Commission’s power to auction spectrum lapsed for the first time in nearly three decades without reauthorization by Congress in March 2023 because of the debate about what spectrum used by the Department of Defense could be repurposed or shared, as reported by Reuters.

Demand, however, is growing at a fast pace. Innovations in areas like unmanned aircraft, autonomous vehicles, moon exploration, and precision agriculture are some of the technologies that are pushing spectrum usage higher. To add to that, mobile U.S. wireless data traffic went up to 38% in 2022, which surfaced as the biggest-ever increase in mobile data traffic.

Key Provisions

This “Spectrum Pipeline” bill introduced by Senators Cruz and Thune requires the National Telecommunications and Information Administration under the Department of Commerce to identify at least 2500 megahertz of mid-band spectrum that can be reallocated to nonfederal or shared use by the fifth year.

Legal amendment would make the FCC auction licenses (at least 1,250 and 600 megahertz) for providing commercial wireless service, one of which would be 5G, within 6 and 3 years respectively.

“To dominate in next-generation wireless technologies, stay ahead of our adversaries, and advance strong economic growth, the U.S. must create a pipeline to expand commercial access to mid-band spectrum,” Cruz, the top Republican on the Commerce Committee, said in a statement to Reuters.

Criticisms and Calls for Faster Progress

In November, the NTIA declared a plan to make room for additional wireless spectrum by repurposing spectrum already assigned to certain parts of the federal government. However, these moves have come under criticism from the Republicans for not making progress fast enough.

The White House National Spectrum Strategy, along with the presidential memorandum, involves a four-year study of the potential repurposing of more than 2,700 megahertz of spectrum, including more than 1,600 megahertz of mid-band spectrum.

The Communications Technology Industry Association (CTIA)—which represents AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and other providers—commented that the bipartisan proposal would create a dedicated spectrum that telecom operators would be able to utilize in order to fulfill the growing needs of increased data users and protect our national security.

Defense Department Access

Three other senators pleaded with the Biden administration last month to refrain from denying the Defense Department access to spectrum for military radar systems so that commercial wireless may use it instead, as reported by Reuters.

Over the past 30 years, the U.S. government has received USD233 billion in proceeds from spectrum auctions.