Wicker Statement at “Future of Spectrum” Subcommittee Hearing

August 3, 2022

Click here to watch Wicker’s remarks

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, yesterday participated in a Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband hearing titled “Future of Spectrum” to discuss the importance of spectrum management and auction authority.

Wicker advocated for a short-term extension of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) auction authority to give Congress time to work with federal agencies on spectrum pipeline legislation. The FCC’s spectrum auction authority is set to expire on September 30, 2022.

Remarks as delivered:

Today, for the first time in more than two years, the subcommittee convenes to discuss the state of spectrum policy in the United States. So, thank you to Chairman Luján and Senator Thune for holding this important hearing, and I welcome our distinguished panel of witnesses, I can’t wait to hear your testimonies. This conversation is particularly timely, as the Chair noted, with the expiration of the FCC’s statutory auction authority in less than two months. 

Spectrum is a critical component of enabling innovation in our modern wireless economy. We have seen time and again how unleashing spectrum for commercial use generates new, cutting-edge technologies and applications for consumers. However, although appetite for commercial spectrum continues to grow almost exponentially, there is also growing demand from federal agencies. The resource is scarce, and effective spectrum management has become essential. 

Auctions have proved to be a winning solution for allocating frequencies. Not only do auctions provide a market mechanism for determining who should receive a license, they also generate sufficient revenues for the Treasury, as our distinguished Chair just stated. Since the advent of spectrum auctions in 1993, more than $230 billion has been collected and used for a variety of expenditures, including funding FirstNet and reducing the federal deficit. However, the FCC’s statutory authority to conduct auctions is set to expire September 30. If we do not act swiftly, the agency may lose the ability to award licenses through competitive bidding. This is especially important with the recent start of an auction of frequencies at 2.5 gigahertz. If that auction is ongoing when the authority expires, it could call into question the agency’s authority to finish the proceeding.

One of the reasons that spectrum auctions have been so successful is bidder certainty — bidders know they will receive the license they bid on, under FCC rules, in the timeframe that the agency announces.  Any action — or inaction — that reduces that certainty risks depressing the value of spectrum. If bidders begin to lose confidence that the FCC will have the legal authority to complete an auction, we should expect bidding to be affected. 

Congress can act to ensure that there is no lapse in authority and no reason for bidders to doubt. A short-term extension of auction authority would allow the committee to continue working with stakeholders to develop legislation that identifies specific bands for auction in the coming years. This approach of legislating the auction of particular frequencies has proved successful in recent years and would give all parties involved the ability to plan ahead. It would allow us the time to draft statutory text thoughtfully and carefully, without any unnecessary disruption to the FCC’s duties. Identifying specific frequencies for auction, as well as timelines and other considerations, would create a path to success for the United States.  But given the very short time before the expiration of auction authority, a short-term extension is needed.

Beyond the extension of auction authority, we should look to the expert spectrum management agencies for guidance as the nation continues to strive for leadership in the race to 5G and beyond. The FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration have worked with their respective stakeholders and each other to make spectrum available for commercial use while continuing to seek ways to meet the needs of federal agencies. I also want to recognize that although our federal agencies certainly have inherent and important spectrum interests, these decisions should be made by the expert agencies tasked by statute with these responsibilities. High-profile disputes and disagreements about interference and service rules only weaken our spectrum management system. These concerns should be handled through existing processes and should be resolved using technical analysis and data.

Spectrum policy is complex, but Congress has a role to play in shaping it. I would urge my colleagues to support a short-term extension of auction authority. This will allow the FCC to continue its important work while we work with stakeholders to develop more comprehensive legislation laying out a long-term pipeline of frequencies for auction. I would also hope to work on legislative efforts to improve the coordination between federal agencies, NTIA, and the FCC to ensure that there is open and effective communication. 

I thank the witnesses, again, for their testimonies.