The top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Communications Subcommittee on Thursday pushed back against criticisms raised by two Federal Communication Commission members that a recently approved “incentive auction” proposal would set aside too much spectrum for unlicensed uses like Wi-Fi.
In a letter to Republican FCC member Ajit Pai, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., questioned his claims surrounding language related to unlicensed spectrum included in spectrum legislation enacted by Congress in February as part of the payroll-tax cut package.
That legislation authorized the FCC to create “incentive auctions” to compensate broadcasters for voluntarily giving up some of their spectrum for use by wireless providers, who say they need much more spectrum to meet consumers' skyrocketing demand for wireless services. The FCC last month approved a proposal seeking comment on draft rules to implement the incentive auction proposal.
At the FCC’s Sept. 28 meeting, Pai and Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell both raised questions about the amount of spectrum that would be made available for unlicensed uses as part of the incentive-auction proposal. The FCC plan proposes creating guard bands that can be utilized for unlicensed uses between spectrum used by television broadcasters and the spectrum that would be auctioned off to wireless broadband providers.
In his statement on this proposal, Pai questioned whether the legislation passed by Congress authorizes such a move. The FCC proposal “assumes that we need not license and auction the guard bands, but I am not sure this is consistent with the Spectrum Act.,” Pai said in outlining his concerns with the incentive-auction proposal.
McDowell echoed this concern in his statement on the incentive auction proposal, questioning whether it “reserves too much spectrum for unlicensed use, contrary to Congress’s explicit intent.”
Eshoo, who pushed hard for freeing up more spectrum for unlicensed uses in the spectrum legislation, disputed this claim.
“Contrary to your assertion, the legislation specifically gave the FCC the discretion to create guard bands out of spectrum that is relinquished by the broadcasters, without any requirement to auction such guard bands,” she said in the letter to Pai. “The legislation also gave the FCC the discretion to decide whether to give unlicensed devices primary or secondary use of the guard bands.”
Eshoo, who represents part of Silicon Valley, has long argued in favor of ensuring an adequate supply of spectrum for unlicensed uses, saying it helps support many innovations from Wi-Fi to Bluetooth technologies, which have generated billions in economic benefits to the country.
“The clear intent of Congress was to achieve a balanced spectrum policy recognizing that both licensed and unlicensed spectrum in the television band maximizes the economic benefits of wireless broadband,” Eshoo wrote.