Without Congressional reauthorization, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will lose its general spectrum auction authority at the end of the fiscal year on September 30. Congress has never allowed this to happen, and it should not do so now. Taking the initiative, the House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan 18-month extension of general auction authority. Rather than hem and haw over obscure provisions, the Senate should pass the House bill without delay.
Reauthorization of FCC auction authority would ensure recent and upcoming auctions can continue without issue, while also giving Congress time to examine new bands for auction. Spectrum auctions are an unalloyed good for innovation, taxpayers, and consumers. Since their inception, spectrum auctions have raised over $230 billion for the Treasury, funding several of the government’s priorities without raising taxes on the American people. Proceeds from these auctions have been invested to improve connectivity and close the digital divide, including by funding the BEAD program created under the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Because of the FCC’s auction authority, spectrum distribution is fast and efficient, and the FCC has a generally strong track record of dealing fairly with the private sector in spectrum allocations.
A lapse would also engender uncertainty and instability for a whole host of industries, including telecommunications, maritime shipping, and airlines. Given the narrow window before September 30, any proposal that has legs should be quickly processed through both chambers.
Fortunately, the House of Representatives has done its job. The Spectrum Innovation Act of 2022 was introduced by Congressmen Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and would allow the FCC to proceed with future auctions while opening up the 3.1–3.45 GHz band for non-Federal use by the private sector. Proceeds for the auction are to be spent improving emergency services through next generation 9-1-1 and closing a shortfall in the “rip and replace” program. The latter was enacted by Congress to replace telecommunications infrastructure built by companies in league with foreign adversaries, such as the Chinese telco Huawei, and is a major national security priority.
Unfortunately, the program has been dogged by consistent cost overruns fueled in part by inflation and supply shortages. Making up the shortfall from auction revenue will address the issue without requiring the taxpayer to spend yet more money due to bureaucratic short-sightedness and irresponsible fiscal policy.
Thanks to the leadership of Congressmen Doyle and Latta, together with House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone and Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Spectrum Innovation Act of 2022 was passed unanimously through both committee and the full House of Representatives. Senate Commerce Chairwoman Maria Cantwell and Ranking Member Roger Wicker should avoid any and all parochial quibbling and hotline this bill through the Senate with all due haste.