Draft Senate bill would let agencies get paid to give up airwaves

Draft Senate bill would let agencies get paid to give up airwaves
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Draft legislation circulated Friday night to Senate Commerce Committee members would make it possible for government agencies to be paid for giving up their wireless spectrum.

The bill could be a boon for the wireless industry, which says it desperately needs access to more spectrum, the radio frequencies that carry signals to wireless devices.


Under the provisions in a discussion draft of the bill, called the MOBILE NOW Act, obtained by The Hill, federal agencies that agreed to give up their spectrum could be eligible to receive up to 25 percent of the net proceeds from the sale.

While the agencies that agree to share their spectrum are eligible for some financial incentives, the draft dictates that agencies are not eligible to receive more than five percent of the net auction proceeds unless it agrees to fully stop using the frequency in question.

Agencies could only access the incentives if it was “much more likely than not” that the funding would increase the proceeds from the auction. The panel approving the payments will also have to take into account whether they would speed the process of the agency vacating the spectrum, among other factors.

Provisions in the bill also amend a budget deal passed earlier this month that ordered the Federal Communications Commission to auction 30 megahertz of government spectrum to the private sector by 2024. Under the proposal, the commission would now have to sell 50 megahertz.

The draft of the bill also addresses a primary concern of advocates who say it is too difficult to build out the infrastructure for mobile broadband.

It gives federal agencies 90 days in which to grant or turn down a request to build communications infrastructure on federal lands or buildings. Advocates have said that the approval process for placing wireless equipment on federal property slows the deployment of infrastructure critical to the develop of mobile networks.

The draft includes other provisions to streamline the process, including instructing federal agencies to determine a single person to work with entities applying to place equipment on federal property.

A section in the draft bill would incorporate into law a 2010 presidential request that 500 megahertz of spectrum be made available by 2020.

It also includes a section that is meant as a placeholder for a "dig once" policy, which mandates that certain of construction projects include the laying of pipes for broadband.

A committee spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the draft legislation and cautioned that changes could be made to the bill before it is formally introduced.

Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell backs Herschel Walker in Georgia Senate race Thune endorses Herschel Walker in Georgia Senate race Democratic frustration with Sinema rises MORE (R-S.D.) has said for months that he was planning to introduce a bill focused on reforming federal spectrum policy and expanding access to mobile broadband.

Advocates say the need for spectrum has become more acute as smartphones soar in popularity and more devices — like home appliances — connect to the internet. High-quality spectrum is a valuable commodity, with an auction that closed earlier this year bringing in more than $40 billion in bids.
Lawmakers looking for spectrum to sell have set their sights on the federal government. Agencies like the Department of Defense and the Department of Transportation control broad swathes of the airwaves that some say could better be used by wireless carriers.
Observers of the spectrum market will be watching the FCC next year, when it buys spectrum from broadcasters and then sells it to wireless providers.