Last Friday, President Trump signed into law omnibus appropriations legislation incorporating key provisions of the RAY BAUMS Act (H.R. 4986) which reauthorizes the FCC for the first time in 25 years and which also allocates an additional $1 billion in federal funds to cover the repacking expenses of television broadcasters who must relocate to new channels as a result of last year’s incentive auction.
The FY 2018 spending bill was signed Friday afternoon on the heels of the Senate’s 65-32 vote that morning to approve the legislation and a day after House members passed the bill by a 256-165 margin. In addition to reauthorizing the FCC and appropriating an additional $1 billion for postincentive auction repacking, the RAY BAUMS provisions in the appropriations measure incorporate language from the MOBILE NOW Act (S. 19), which requires the FCC to identify an additional 255 MHz of spectrum for fixed and mobile broadband use by 2022. Provisions which relate to FCC process reform (1) require the FCC to publish and circulate proposed orders and other documents at least 21 days prior to agency action, (2) set an 18-month “shot clock” for the completion of FCC rulemaking proceedings, and (3) allow a bipartisan majority of FCC commissioners to meet for the purpose of discussing official agency business as long as the meeting is disclosed publicly and no vote is held. Other provisions allocate $7.5 million to the National Telecommunications & Information Administration for the purpose of updating the National Broadband Map and mandate the establishment of a methodology to cover the collection of mobile service coverage data.
Importantly, the omnibus spending measure also incorporates language of the Spectrum Auction Deposits Act of 2017 which allows the FCC to deposit auction proceeds directly with the U.S. Treasury instead of into an interest-bearing account, thereby correcting a defect in current law that has prevented the FCC from scheduling future auctions. Applauding the efforts of Congress and the Trump Administration in enacting the legislation, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told reporters that, “by fixing the upfront payments issue, this law will enable the FCC to commence a 5G spectrum auction later this year” of wireless broadband licenses in the 28 GHz band.