Eshoo says FCC's Pai wrong on congressional intent for auctions

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Eshoo, the ranking member of the Communications and Technology subcommittee, and other Democrats successfully fought to include a provision that empowers the FCC to set aside some of the reclaimed spectrum for "unlicensed use." Unlicensed spectrum, which can be used by any company for free, powers technologies such as Wi-Fi, garage door openers and remote controls.

Supporters of unlicensed spectrum, which include Google and Microsoft, argue that unlicensed spectrum will lead to new and innovative technologies. But some Republicans view additional unlicensed spectrum as a giveaway to tech companies and had wanted to auction as much spectrum as possible to the wireless industry.

The FCC voted last month to begin accepting comments on proposed rules for the auctions. The proposal would set aside unlicensed spectrum blocks in-between broadcast and mobile broadband frequencies.

Pai supported the decision to move ahead with the auction proposal, but questioned the decision to reserve more unlicensed spectrum.

He said the FCC's proposal "assumes that we need not license and auction the guard bands, but I am not sure this is consistent with the Spectrum Act. At several points, the Spectrum Act appears to contemplate that all reallocated spectrum will be licensed and auctioned."

He asked the public to comment on whether the law requires the commission to "license and auction all spectrum reallocated from the television broadcasting service, including guard band spectrum."

"What would the value of the guard band spectrum be if licensed and auctioned?" he asked.

But Eshoo argued that lawmakers meant to make clear that the FCC has the authority to promote unlicensed spectrum.

"The clear intent of Congress was to achieve a balanced spectrum policy recognizing that both licensed and unlicensed spectrum in the television band maximizes the economic benefits of wireless broadband. l’m proud of the compromise we achieved in Congress and expect that the FCC’ s rules will mirror this agreement," she said.