A House and Senate conference committee is coming under increased pressure from a wide range of stakeholders to ensure the Federal Communications Commission has the flexibility it needs to free up more spectrum for unlicensed uses such as Wi-Fi.
As it weighs whether to include spectrum legislation in a payroll tax cut package, the conference committee must settle several policy issues. They include calls from a broad coalition of tech companies and public interest groups and some lawmakers to delete language in the House's version of the spectrum legislation that would restrict the FCC from providing additional spectrum for unlicensed uses such as Wi-Fi .They are particularly worried that the House language could keep the FCC from using some of the spectrum that broadcasters are expected to voluntarily give up for unlicensed uses.
"It is particularly critical that some of the 'the beachfront' spectrum located in the television bands remain available for unlicensed services, which are driving innovation, promoting rural broadband deployment, and creating new services in the wireless ecosystem," Google, Microsoft, Public Knowledge and several other tech firms and public interest groups wrote in a letter to the conference committee.
A group of 42 House members led by Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Darrell Issa, R-Calif. sent a similar missive last week in which they argued the importance of freeing up more unlicensed spectrum.
While wireless companies also rely on unlicensed spectrum at times to help alleviate congestion on their networks, they want to ensure that they have first dibs on any of the spectrum broadcasters give up.
Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., who authored the House spectrum legislation and is also on the payroll tax conference committee, said he agrees on the importance of providing both unlicensed and licensed spectrum but said licensed spectrum should be the top priority.
"There is currently more unlicensed spectrum than there is licensed spectrum for wireless broadband use. The JOBS Act not only preserves unlicensed spectrum, it creates more for future innovation," Walden said in a statement last week. "The JOBS Act simply says that the FCC cannot spend taxpayer funds to clear additional spectrum and then give away that billions of dollars worth of spectrum. Taxpayers deserve a return on their investment."
Meanwhile, the conference committee has come under pressure from smaller wireless firms including Sprint and T-Mobile to also delete language in the House spectrum bill that would restrict the FCC from barring the two biggest wireless firms, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, from participating in future auctions of the broadcast spectrum.