A group of U.S. lawmakers has reintroduced legislation aimed at encouraging government agencies to give up their spectrum by allowing the agencies to share in the profits when the spectrum is auctioned to commercial mobile carriers.
The Federal Spectrum Incentive Act, introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives Thursday, mirrors legislation that was introduced in the House in 2013 but failed to pass. But the need for the bill is growing, sponsors argue, because of the skyrocketing consumer demand for commercial mobile and unlicensed WiFi spectrum.
"Spectrum has become one of the linchpins in our economy," Representative Doris Matsui, a California Democrat and co-sponsor of the spectrum bill, said Thursday. "Congress must look for creative ways to produce more spectrum and create a pipeline for spectrum reallocation or sharing."
Auctions allowing federal agencies to share in auction proceeds would be a "game-changer," Matsui said during a Thursday House hearing on spectrum policy.
The bill is partly modeled after 2011 legislation that allowed for the so-called incentive auction of television spectrum at the Federal Communications Commission. In the incentive auctions, scheduled for early 2016, television stations that voluntarily give up their spectrum share in the proceeds of the sale.
Thursday's bill would allow federal agencies to share in auction proceeds from spectrum they give up. Agencies could use the funds to pay for spectrum relocation costs or to offset congressional budget cuts.
Some lawmakers, tech vendors and mobile companies have been pushing government agencies for years to turn over spectrum for commercial uses. After the auctions of TV spectrum in 2016, there will be little new spectrum in the desirable lower bands to convert to commercial uses, other than government spectrum, lawmakers said during a Thursday House hearing on spectrum.
U.S. agencies control more than 480MHz of spectrum between 225MHz and 3700MHz, according to an FCC spectrum map.
Mobile trade group CTIA applauded the new legislation, in a statement calling the bill the "type of forward-thinking bipartisan spectrum policy that we need to meet our nation's commercial and government spectrum needs."
The Federal Spectrum Incentive Act is cosponsored in the House by Representatives Brett Guthrie, a Kentucky Republican, Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, and Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat. Senate sponsors are Senators Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Deb Fischer, a Nebraska Republican.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is [email protected]