Will the Fed Ever Let Go? 25 MHz Prime Target for Future Auctions

After the broadcaster auctions, where will future commercial spectrum come from?  It's going to have to come from some of the 70% of available spectrum that is controlled by the government.  

Recently, Reps. Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY), leaders in the Energy and Commerce Committee’s spectrum working group, introduced a bill that requires the FCC to reallocate and pair up for auction the 1755-1780 MHz and the 2155-2180 MHz spectrum bands within 5 yers of passage. Auctioning off this highly desirable spectrum will help ameliorate the current spectrum crunch that the wireless industry is facing as wireless technologies become increasingly popular, advanced, and spectrum-heavy.

This legislation was previously introduced last Congress by Matsui and Cliff Stearns (R-FL) under the name the Efficient Use of Government Spectrum Act; however, it did not make it out of committee. The new bill is expected to contain primarily the same language.

This block of spectrum is desperately needed to provide the 500 MHz of spectrum over 10 years that the FCC has asked for in order to meet increasing demand for wireless services (“Matsui and Stearns Introduce Spectrum Legislation”). There are estimates that demand in 2014 will be 35 times that in 2009. The only way the nation’s wireless industry can handle this on top of upcoming advanced technology is by having access to more spectrum.

The president has already signed into law a 2012 bill that allows the FCC to hold auctions for reallocating spectrum from government to exclusive commercial use. The 2155-2180 block is already approved for auction, and pairing it with the 1755-1780 band would make this chunk of spectrum even more desirable.

With a greater demand for the paired set rather than just the 2155-2180, the government would bring in more revenue and create more efficiencies for companies that operate in the wireless space. When the first version of the bill was released in 2012, this 25 MHz spectrum band was expected to bring in $12 billion of revenue, most of which was slated for the U.S. Treasury.

The 2012 version of this legislation also had a concession for the government agencies currently using the 1755-1780 and 2155-2180 bands, which includes the DoD. In exchange for moving to a different government-controlled spectrum band (of which there is plenty), they stand to gain “reimbursements for planning costs and the acquisition of state-of-the-art replacement systems,” according to the Matsui press release cited above.

The bill takes into account its effects on all parties involved. It will allow wireless companies to obtain more spectrum, thus providing much better service to the vast majority of Americans who utilize wireless. It stands to earn the Treasury billions of dollars that can be used to provide taxpayer relief or lower the deficit. It even promises state-of-the-art technology to the agencies moving off the specified bands, just for their trouble.

The bill is, as Matsui said in 2012, a “win-win for consumers, and American innovation.” Digital Liberty hopes that members of Congress will not let it pass by in a repeat of last year’s events. With the government in control of 65% of the 225-3700 MHz band (“Spectrum in High Demand…”), it can certainly afford to free up 25 MHz to help propel the United States further into the wireless era, especially when this 25 MHz comes with $12 billion in revenue.