Bill aims at entice federal agencies to auction off airwaves

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing a proposal that would allow federal agencies to participate in airwave auctions and get a cut of the proceeds. 

The Federal Spectrum Incentive Act introduced Thursday is meant to make it more attractive for agencies to give up their spectrum so it can be auctioned off to wireless phone carriers, who need the airwaves to keep up with an ever increasing demand for mobile coverage. 

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The bill, H.R. 1641, would allow agencies that participate to get a small cut of the proceeds in order to boost their funding after sequestration cuts. The other profits would go to deficit reduction.  

The proposal is sponsored by Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Brett GuthrieSteven (Brett) Brett GuthrieHillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter dismantle Russian interference campaign targeting African Americans | YouTube to allow ads on coronavirus videos | Trump signs law banning federal funds for Huawei equipment Trump signs law banning use of federal funds to purchase Huawei equipment Hillicon Valley — Presented by Facebook — Federal court rules tech giants can censor content | Trump upends surveillance fight | Senate passes bill barring federal funds for Huawei equipment MORE (R-Ky.) in the House and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOvernight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill Democratic senators want probe into change of national stockpile description Overnight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal MORE (D-Mass.) and Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerSenators balance coronavirus action with risks to health Coronavirus takes toll on Capitol Hill As we face coronavirus battle, we must ensure critical supplies of respirators for health care workers MORE (R-Neb.) in the Senate. The proposal made its way through committee in the House last Congress and has support from House Energy and Commerce Leaders. 

“As Americans increasingly rely on smartphones and tablets to communicate, Congress must look for creative ways to produce more spectrum,” Matsui said in a statement. “This legislation would create the first ever incentive auction for federal agencies and — for once — offer revenue to federal spectrum users.” 

The introduction comes ahead of a House Energy and Commerce hearing about the “next steps for spectrum policy” where a series of officials from the Federal Communications Commission will testify about the upcoming broadcast incentive auction. 

The government is the single biggest holder of spectrum. And according to one study, demand could increase four-fold by the end of the decade. 

The recent AWS-3 auction of government spectrum netted $41 billion and regulators are currently preparing for the broadcast incentive auction next year, in which broadcast companies will sell off some of their airwaves so it can be resold to mobile carriers. 

CTIA-The Wireless Association applauded the legislation, saying the government’s current use of the spectrum is inefficient. 

“The demand for additional commercial spectrum is well-documented and when federal spectrum isn’t being used or used efficiently, it makes sense to incent federal users to give it up so it can be repurposed for commercial use,” said Jot Carpenter, the vice president for governmental affairs.