OPIOID SERIES:

Lawmakers push to free airwaves for broadband

Lawmakers push to free airwaves for broadband
© Getty Images

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing the federal government to free up more wireless airwaves to handle the booming demand for mobile devices with broadband.

“The Senate has a real opportunity over the next several months to pass meaningful wireless broadband and spectrum reform legislation,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenators grill alleged robocall kingpin Overnight Energy: Trump energy adviser leaving for lobbying job | Zinke decides against lowering offshore royalty rates | Greens fight Coast Guard bill Coast Guard bill would weaken water pollution rules, environmentalists say MORE (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, at a panel hearing.

Ranking member Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonTrump's NASA nominee advances after floor drama Senate blocks bill that opponents say weakens water pollution rules The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Fla.) said that spectrum legislation has traditionally been bipartisan — and noted a previous bill spearheaded by the Senate.

ADVERTISEMENT
“This committee should exert that same degree of leadership and consensus in addressing this future spectrum policy,” he said.

The hearing was the first in a series on the issue, but lawmakers are still unsure of the path forward.

Thune cautioned reporters later that it was unlikely any bill would be completed before the committee finished its hearings.

He also said there is no guarantee a spectrum bill would be attached to a larger overall of the cornerstone Communications Act.

“I suspect that it gets attached to some vehicle. … It would be hard to picture moving stuff like this as a freestanding bill,” Thune said.

"But whether or not it gets attached to a vehicle coming out of this committee, which would be a broader telecom rewrite or update, I would say that’s a possibility or it could be freestanding or attached to something else,” he added.

Among the ideas floated by lawmakers and witnesses were proposals to incentivize federal agencies to hand over their valuable spectrum to the private sector.

That could include providing more money to federal agencies to help them move their operations to different bandwidths, freeing up airwaves.

“I also think that incentive auctions for federal agencies is a good idea,” said Meredith Attwell Baker, who leads the trade group CTIA.

Many on the panel also suggested that regulators should do more to free up unlicensed spectrum, which is used by technology like Wi-Fi.

“Insuring the availability of more licensed spectrum is essential because it provides companies the certainty they need for investment,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

“Unlicensed spectrum, though, is also critical. Not only has unlicensed spectrum become an essential part of the nation’s wireless infrastructure for the offloading of traffic for licensed spectrum, but it also provides the foundation for permissionless innovation."