Two members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee offered legislation Thursday that would put pressure on the administration to do more than just talk about meeting President Obama's pledge to free up 500 megahertz of spectrum over the next decade.
The bill offered by Reps. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., and Doris Matsui, D-Calif., would require the administration to auction off a chunk of spectrum coveted by the wireless industry that is now used by federal agencies. The bill would require that the 1755-1780 megahertz block of spectrum be paired with the 2155-2180 band, which the Federal Communications Commission already has available, and be auctioned to wireless providers.
The wireless group CTIA sought but failed to get language in the spectrum bill enacted into law in February to push the federal government to give up the 1755 band of spectrum for auction. The language was opposed by the Defense Department and other agencies that use the spectrum now.
In a report released last month, the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration said while the 1755 band could be re-purposed for use by commercial providers, there are many obstacles that would have to be addressed first. As a result, the agency, which is in charge of managing the nation's spectrum inventory, suggested that both sides consider looking for ways to share the spectrum.
The Stearns-Matsui bill would give the Pentagon and other federal agencies five years to relocate from the 1755 band and authorize funding to pay for the costs associated with that move.
The wireless industry argues that while the spectrum legislation passed in February was a good first step, wireless providers will need even more spectrum to meet the nation's growing demand for new mobile tech gadgets.
"Today we take the next step forward in bringing the 1755-1780 band to auction for commercial wireless use. The rise of smartphones and tablets has dramatically increased demand for spectrum," Stearns, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, said in a statement.
Not surprisingly, wireless providers praised the legislation. "We hope that this and other bands currently occupied but often underutilized by federal users will be made available for commercial use as expeditiously as possible," CTIA Vice President for Government Affairs Jot Carpenter said in a statement. "Freeing spectrum like the 1755 to 1780 megahertz band is key to helping ensure that the U.S. remains the world's leader in the deployment of wireless broadband services."
The Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee launched a working group Wednesday to examine ways the federal government can more efficiently use its airwaves.
While noting she hasn't taken a position on the bill yet, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., the ranking member of the Communications Subcommittee, said at a tech industry event that she is glad the measure is examining "the whole issue of how much spectrum the federal government is holding, what is being used, is there a higher and better purpose, can there be swapping."