Members of the Senate Commerce Committee laid the groundwork last Thursday for future fifth-generation (5G) wireless broadband services by adopting the MOBILE NOW Act (S. 2555) which would free up 255 MHz of federal and other spectrum resources for fixed and mobile wireless services.  Co-sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and by ranking committee member Bill Nelson (D-FL), the MOBILE NOW Act is slated for consideration by the full Senate, although a floor vote has yet to be scheduled.  The proposed 255 MHz allocation represents the balance of the Obama Administration’s goal of freeing up 500 MHz of spectrum for commercial wireless use by 2020.  The MOBILE NOW Act would vest that goal with the force of law.  To achieve that objective, the MOBILE NOW Act would (1) expedite deployment of wireless broadband infrastructure on federal property, (2) require the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to evaluate the feasibility of authorizing wireless broadband operations in six “millimeter wave” frequency bands between 24 GHz and 86 GHz, (3) mandate FCC rulemaking proceedings on the aforementioned frequency bands, (4) require the NTIA to report to Congress on proposals to incentivize federal agencies to relinquish or share their spectrum, and (5) mandate unlicensed usage of spectrum auction “guard bands.” 

 Committee members also approved twelve amendments to the bill, the most notable of which would require the FCC to develop a national plan for identification and assignment of spectrum for unlicensed operations and to designate at least 100 MHz of the proposed 255 MHz spectrum outlay for unlicensed wireless use.  The remaining amendments would also require the FCC to launch rulemaking proceedings on incentives for carriers to partition or disaggregate licenses to small, rural carriers.  The law would also direct the Commerce Department to establish a spectrum challenge prize that would award $5 million to any person or persons who “dramatically accelerate the development and commercialization of technology that improves spectrum efficiency and is capable of cost-effective deployment.” 

Characterizing the MOBILE NOW Act as “a product of months of hard work, of intense negotiation,” Nelson told reporters that the bill, as amended, “strike[s] a balance” between the spectrum requirements of the wireless industry and federal government bandwidth needs.  As FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly welcomed the committee vote as “an important step toward our wireless 5G future,” Meredith Atwell Baker, the CEO of wireless association CTIA, observed that, “by pushing to bring more licensed and unlicensed spectrum to market . . . the bill reported today draws on good ideas from both sides of the political spectrum to advance America’s continued leadership in the wireless marketplace.”