Thune on MOBILE NOW Act

March 10, 2016

U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, spoke on the Senate floor on consideration of S.2555, the MOBILE NOW Act. The committee approved the measure on March 3, 2016 and it awaits full Senate consideration. The measure would boost the development of next-generation 5G wireless broadband by ensuring more spectrum is made available for commercial use and reducing the red tape for building wireless networks.

Mr. President, over the last twenty years we have seen incredible advancements in computing, telecommunications, and information technology.  The United States has led the world in this innovation, thanks to our brilliant entrepreneurs and scientists, world-class universities, massive private-sector capital investment, a culture that rewards risk-taking, and a favorable regulatory environment. 


But increasingly, our lead in innovation is threatened as American businesses are forced to contend with an ever growing number of outdated laws and regulations.  And while our businesses have often managed to succeed anyways, American industries deserve better from our government. 


Congress has a responsibility to ensure that our statutes and regulations are appropriately and narrowly tailored for today’s economy and for the future.  My Commerce Committee colleagues and I have been eager to do our part in ensuring our nation’s communications laws keep pace with innovation. 


Last week, we unanimously passed the bipartisan MOBILE NOW Act, which I introduced with the Committee’s Ranking Member, Senator Bill Nelson.  This legislation will give a boost to American innovators who are working to make the next generation of wireless technology – known as “5G” – a reality. 


5G wireless will obviously mean things like faster movie downloads and more advanced smartphones.  But it will also mean massive leaps forward in areas like technology, entertainment, public safety, and healthcare, as well as other economic benefits that will make American lives better. 


One of the best examples I’ve heard came from former FCC Commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker.  She pointed out that right now, a “smart car” communicating with 4G wireless technology takes four and a half feet to break in response to an obstacle.  By contrast, a smart car with 5G technology would travel only one inch before braking— which could be the difference between life and death. 


But to make 5G wireless technology a reality, we have to put the right policies in place.  Policies that maximize the efficiency of the airwaves that transmit wireless broadband signals.  The bands of electromagnetic spectrum that make up our nation’s airwaves are in limited supply.  But while we can’t make more airwaves to carry additional spectrum, we can make changes to how they are used, and to who use them, to improve efficiency and do more with what we have. 


The MOBILE NOW Act will require the government to make at least 255 megahertz of spectrum available for private-sector broadband use by the year 2020.  That’s a lot of spectrum.  But MOBILE NOW doesn’t stop there. 


The bill also directs the government to assess more than 12,000 megahertz of super-high frequency spectrum for wireless broadband suitability.  For technical reasons, that spectrum has seen only limited use to date, but as new technologies come online in the next few years, this spectrum will become increasingly viable.  Indeed, most people expect these super-high bands will become critical for our 5G future.


Making spectrum available is important, but freeing up spectrum does not help our digital economy unless and until we put it to good use.  This is why several of MOBILE NOW’s provisions focus on speeding up the deployment of the communications facilities at the heart of our nation’s broadband networks. 


One way we do that is by putting a shot clock on federal agencies to force them to make speedy decisions on companies’ applications to place wireless facilities on federal property.  This is critical for rural states like South Dakota and Nevada, where placing wireless facilities on federal lands could bring more high-speed Internet service to under-served communities.


Mr. President, the MOBILE NOW Act is an example of what is possible when members put aside their partisan differences and work together to come up with common-sense proposals to spur economic growth.  In addition to the provisions Sen. Nelson and I wrote, MOBILE NOW also includes all or part of six other bills, which represent work of Senators Booker, Daines, Fischer, Gardner, Klobuchar, Manchin, Moran, Rubio, Schatz, and Udall.  We also adopted important amendments from Senators Heller and Peters.  Even the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator Inhofe, as well as a long-time former member of the Commerce Committee, Senator Boxer, made key contributions to the bill’s “Dig Once” section.  The MOBILE NOW Act would not have been possible without the collaboration of these senators. 


And it is my hope that this spirit of bipartisanship will also carry over to the Commerce Committee’s efforts to reauthorize the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  Compared to other federal agencies, the FCC is relatively small.  But as the regulator of the communications and technology industries, both of which are central to America’s modern economy, the commission has significant influence over the direction of our country.  Given the importance of the FCC, my colleagues might be surprised to learn that Congress has not reauthorized it in more than a quarter century. 


The work of the FCC has continued during this period, of course, but reauthorizing this agency every few years ensures that Congress will be able to make sure the FCC has all the tools it needs to keep up with our rapidly changing digital landscape.  Twenty-six years ago, I think it is safe to say, none of us in this chamber knew anything about the Web, let alone about smartphones or streaming video.  Since then, the communications landscape has been fundamentally transformed by digital technology, mobile services, and the Internet.  Yet, the FCC has gone unauthorized, making it the oldest expired authorization in the Commerce Committee’s broad jurisdiction.  I hope to change that. 


On Monday, I introduced the FCC Reauthorization Act of 2016, which includes a handful of noncontroversial “good government” reforms to go with a two-year authorization window.  By restarting the FCC’s regular authorization cycle, the bill will ensure that necessary congressional oversight of the FCC’s budget and procedures occur routinely.  As indicated by the FCC commissioners themselves at our oversight hearing last week, a consistent legislative reauthorization process will produce a more responsible and productive relationship between Congress and the Commission.  This will result in better outcomes for both consumers and the rapidly growing broadband-based economy.


Mr. President, telecom policy was once considered to be one of the least partisan issues in Congress.  And while the campaign for net neutrality has certainly changed the political playing field over the last decade, I believe there is still a lot of room for bipartisanship on tech and telecommunication issues.  The MOBILE NOW Act and the FCC Reauthorization Act are two bills that can make a real difference, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Commerce Committee and in the full Senate to pass both of these bills in the coming months. 


Thank you, Mr. President.