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FCC needs spectrum auction reauthorization

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Once again, the expiration of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) ability to auction spectrum is on the chopping block come Dec. 16, and it’s a looming deadline that Congress needs to pay attention to. Fortunately, Congress has a long history of bipartisan support in reauthorizing auction authority and now is the time for action. To ensure maximum benefits to consumers, Congress should couple a short-term reauthorization with a pipeline of mid-band spectrum. 

With uncertain times ahead, it is important that Congress leverage every sound avenue necessary to ensure economic stability. Since 1993, the U.S. government has raised $233 billion in revenue from wireless companies participating in FCC spectrum auctions and unlocked more than $1 trillion in benefits for the American people. That’s money that the U.S. Treasury can use to pay down the national debt, or support key projects that Congress deems necessary, such as public safety measures and next-generation 911 services.  

These auctions also have the potential to become even more beneficial in spurring economic growth and fostering job creation. A recent report by Accenture found that 5G networks are expected to create 4.5 million new jobs and $1.5 trillion in additional gross domestic product for the economy over the 2020s. 

Beyond economics, there are practical matters to consider. Americans are using more wireless data than ever before, and licensed commercial spectrum is the backbone of wireless networks. According to an annual survey conducted by CTIA, U.S. networks are supporting more data traffic today than 2010 through 2017 combined.  

Currently,  more than 83% of people in the U.S. have access to the internet from their smartphones, tablets, or other mobile devices. And these devices are the only means of internet connection for 15% of Americans. In fact, just 1.7% of American households have only wireline telephone services, mobile services have become critical to consumer connectivity. In short, without a pipeline of licensed spectrum attached to the reauthorization, our country risks falling well short of mobile consumer demand. 

Working to bridge the digital divide must be considered as well. As seen in the broadband allocations included in the American Rescue Plan and more recently in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Congress has sent a clear signal that broadband access across America is a priority. The use of competitive bidding in licensed spectrum auctions increases the pace of licensing and service deployment. This means that spectrum, particularly mid-band spectrum, will give consumers better access to fast and reliable internet connectivity – things needed for online schooling, remote work and telemedicine. 

Finally, there are some who argue that any spectrum pipeline should be tied to the use of Citizen’s Broadband Radio Service, a complex spectrum-sharing framework that to date has limited use cases. While there is a role for all types of spectrum—licensed, unlicensed, and shared—to promote American connectivity, the FCC’s reauthorization of auction authority is the wrong time and place to consider this misguided policy. Right now, we need spectrum efficiency and the expedient deployment of broadband services, all while raising revenue to support American priorities.  

Reauthorizing the FCC’s auction authority without a defined set of bands of spectrum could be a huge, missed opportunity. And with the mid-term elections in the rearview mirror, it’s time for Congress to refocus on policy priorities that put consumers first. Consumers deserve better. 

Steve Pociask is chairman and president of the American Consumer Institute and former chair of the FCC’s Consumer Advisory Committee. For more information about the Institute, visit www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org and follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.  

Tags budget FCC spectrum auction

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