Wireless industry officials and public interest groups applauded the introduction of Senate legislation on Tuesday that would provide commercial wireless operators and unlicensed users with access to additional spectrum resources in a wide variety of frequency bands while targeting ten percent of related FCC spectrum auction proceeds towards the deployment of wireless broadband network infrastructure in rural and underserved areas.
Introduced by Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), the Advancing Innovation and Reinvigorating Widespread Access to Viable Electromagnetic Spectrum (AIRWAVES) Act (S 1682) aims to establish “a spectrum pipeline that will provide more capacity for wireless providers to improve existing service and expand to new areas.” As stated in a Senate press release, the AIRWAVES Act would also “encourage the federal government to continue to free up spectrum for commercial licensed and unlicensed use” while motivating “industry and federal agencies to find ways to better utilize spectrum and avoid a spectrum crunch and lay the groundwork for 5G [fifth-generation] technologies.”
The bill lays out a schedule of target dates by which the FCC would be required to complete auctions of spectrums in frequency bands which range from 3.5 GHz to 51 GHz. Additionally, the FCC would be directed to identify and potentially launch rulemaking proposals to open high-band spectrum between 71.25 and 84 GHz for unlicensed use. Under the proposed schedule, the FCC would be required to complete an auction of spectrum in the 3550-3560 MHz band by December 31, 2018. Channels in the 28 GHz, 37 GHz, and 39 GHz bands, which the FCC had allocated for 5G use last year as part of its “spectrum frontiers” proceeding, would have to be auctioned by December 31, 2019.
By the end of 2020, the FCC would have to complete auctions of specified channels in the 24-25 GHz, 32 GHz, 42 GHz, 48 GHz, and 51 GHz bands, which the FCC had designated for further study pursuant to a further rulemaking proposal adopted last year in the spectrum frontiers proceeding. In a provision which relates to the FCC’s decision yesterday to examine the potential reallocation of fixed satellite C-band channels for 5G wireless use (see story below), the AIRWAVES Act would require the FCC by December 31, 2019 to identify C-band spectrum in the 3.7-4.2 GHz range for commercial licensed use and launch rulemaking proceedings within 180 days of the bill’s passage that would designate the 5.925-7.125 GHz band for unlicensed use. Meanwhile, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) would be directed to report to Congress by December 31, 2020 on the reallocation of existing federal operations in the 1300-1350 MHz and 1780-1830 MHz bands. The bill would also amend the Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2015 to increase from 30 MHz to 100 MHz the amount of low-band channels below 3 GHz that NTIA would have to recommend to the White House and to the FCC for reallocation from federal to commercial or shared use.