Wicker, Schatz, Matsui, Guthrie Introduce the SPECTRUM NOW Act

The legislation would significantly accelerate the process to repurpose key spectrum for 5G

June 25, 2019

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, U.S. Rep Doris Matsui D-Calif., vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, and Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., today introduced the “Supplementing the Pipeline for Efficient Control of The Resources for Users Making New Opportunities for Wireless (SPECTRUM NOW) Act”. This bill facilitates the speedy deployment of 5G by allowing government agencies to become more efficient and effective in their spectrum use and requiring key mid-band frequencies be made available for commercial wireless use.

“Winning the race to 5G is critical to ensuring our nation’s security, economic prosperity, and closing the digital divide in rural America,” said Wicker. “We have already made considerable progress in that race. This legislation would continue that momentum by providing federal agencies the resources needed to make more spectrum available to the commercial wireless industry and other innovative industries.”

“As demand for licensed and unlicensed spectrum continues to grow, we need to find new ways to maximize our country’s spectrum resources,” said Schatz. “By freeing up more licensed spectrum, we can give innovators a strong foundation for building new technologies and help grow an industry that fuels our national economy.”

“As we seek to lead the world in next generation broadband networks such as 5G, ensuring agencies are operating efficiently and effectively on federally-held spectrum and repurposing additional spectrum for commercial use is more critical than ever,” said Matsui. “This legislation delivers on the promise of bringing additional, key mid-band spectrum to the commercial marketplace and providing federal users with the resources necessary to modernize federal systems and operations, in turn potentially making more spectrum available for commercial wireless use.”

“Spectrum is key to improved technology and accessing the elusive 5G network – but we need to ensure that it’s available for innovators to use,” said Guthrie. “Federal agencies own a huge portion of spectrum licenses, but in many cases, the federal government is not utilizing this spectrum. The SPECTRUM NOW Act will enable government agencies to make their use of spectrum more efficient and identify which spectrum bands could be made available for commercial use. This is a bipartisan, bicameral issue, and I want to thank Senators Wicker and Schatz and Rep. Matsui for working on this important issue.”  

Specifically, The SPECTRUM NOW Act creates a pathway for agencies to modify their operations on federally-held spectrum to make those frequencies available for commercial wireless broadband use. Congress passed the Spectrum Pipeline Act in 2015, which broadened the scope of expenses that could be supported by the Spectrum Relocation Fund (SRF). Current law allows federal agencies to perform research and development, engineering studies, economic analyses, and other planning activities that could lead to spectrum being repurposed for commercial use, but it limits the resources within the SRF that these federal agencies can actually access for this research and planning. 

The SPECTRUM NOW Act allows agencies that have submitted a plan under the Spectrum Pipeline Act to access the existing, otherwise unused SRF funds that they currently cannot in order to study the possibility of increasing their spectrum efficiency and relocating or sharing their spectrum with commercial users. Without this fix, federal agencies that have currently identified spectrum that could be repurposed would be unable to conduct the engineering research that would result in the spectrum being made available for commercial wireless use.

Highlights of the SPECTRUM NOW Act include: 

  • Improves Federal agencies’ ability to study making spectrum available for commercial wireless use.
  • Requires a plan be submitted to repurpose the 3450 MHz – 3550 MHz band for commercial wireless use. This band is adjacent to the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band, which is expected to be auctioned next year.   
  • Creates a timeline for formal identification and auction of the 3450 MHz – 3550 MHz band, provided the study required by the SPECTRUM NOW Act determines it can be made available for commercial use.
  • Requires the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to consult with the Federal Communications Commission and the relevant federal agency on whether spectrum subject to a plan could be made available on an unlicensed basis, if a study reveals it could not be made available for auction on a licensed basis.
  • Updates an annual report by NTIA on the implementation of relocation or sharing arrangements of federal spectrum.

Click here to see the full bill.