Senators release long-awaited airwaves bill

Senators release long-awaited airwaves bill
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Two key senators introduced a bill Thursday night designed to free up more of the valuable wireless frequencies, called spectrum, that deliver data to wireless devices.

Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Bill NelsonBill NelsonUnited explains passenger removal to senators Overnight Cybersecurity: Ex-officials warn 'Buy American' might harm Pentagon cybersecurity | Chair nudges Trump on cyber order | House gets security training Cruz looks to boost space industry MORE (D-Fla.) is now backing a modified version of the Mobile Now Act, which Chairman John ThuneJohn ThuneHopes fade for using tax reform on infrastructure United explains passenger removal to senators Ryan praises FCC chief's plans to roll back net neutrality MORE (R-S.D.) debuted in draft form last year and has labeled one of his priorities.

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Wireless providers say they face a growing need for more spectrum fueled by the use of data-consuming smartphones. Many have pointed to the federal government as one possible source of additional airwaves, since agencies like the Department of Defense and the Department of Transportation have significant spectrum holdings.

The bill would give the Department of Commerce 18 months to report on ways to incentivize federal agencies to give up some or all of their spectrum.

That marks a change from the provisions in the draft version of the bill released last fall. It originally would have allowed agencies to reap a financial windfall from the auction of their spectrum.

The bill would also instruct the government to examine several additional bands of spectrum that could be used to deliver mobile broadband.

The bill includes other measures meant to speed up the deployment of mobile broadband.

It has a “dig once” provision to encourage federal agencies to include the laying of broadband conduit in federal construction projects. It also codifies into law a presidential commitment to free up 500 megahertz of spectrum controlled by federal agencies for wireless broadband by 2020.

Thune introduced the legislation in draft form last fall. But an attempt to swiftly vote it out of the Commerce Committee was stymied by concerns floated by the administration and other lawmakers.

"Forging a strong consensus required both time and changes to accommodate federal agencies," Thune said in a statement. "While we may still add additional provisions, Ranking Member Nelson and I are now ready to move this much-needed legislation forward.”

It comes a little more than a month before the start of a major auction of wireless spectrum that will see the FCC buy frequencies from broadcast stations and sell them to wireless providers. It remains to be seen how high demand will be for the spectrum, though it is possible that, in addition to wireless carriers, buyers will include investment firms and companies, like Comcast, that are weighing entering the wireless business.