Congress

Federal spectrum reallocation included in budget deal

Shutterstock image (by Pavel Ignatov): wireless, radio icon.

(Pavel Ignatov / Shutterstock)

The budget bill making its way through Congress would not only provide federal agencies with funding for two years and forestall the threat of a default on the national debt, it would also create a plan for reallocating and auctioning more federal wireless spectrum to commercial providers.

The Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2015, a section of the deal, calls on the secretary of Commerce and the Federal Communications Commission to identify 30 MHz of federally owned wireless communications spectrum and auction it off for commercial or shared use by 2024.

The auction is projected to offset the cost of the budget deal by $4.42 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Agencies would be compensated for 110 percent of the costs incurred in relinquishing spectrum and relocating their activities. It remains to be seen whether that incentive is enough to encourage agencies to clear spectrum.

New legislation to expand agencies' possible uses of spectrum relocation funds could be in the offing, said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. He said the spectrum measures in the budget deal are a "first installment" and to expect more activity in the coming weeks.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called the spectrum bill "a good start" but said he wants more legislative activity to clear spectrum.

"We should continue our bipartisan work in this committee to authorize more spectrum auctions going forward," Pallone said during an Oct. 28 hearing.

One recent proposal, the Federal Spectrum Incentive Act, would give agencies the option of using the funds they receive for clearing spectrum to offset budget cuts under sequestration. The push is part of a broader Obama administration effort to reallocate as much as 500 MHz of public and private spectrum for wireless broadband. A recent auction of 65 MHz of spectrum raised a staggering $44 billion. Sales of spectrum have traditionally brought in billions of dollars for the federal government and allowed commercial providers to expand their services.

Commercial wireless providers have been clamoring for more capacity for mobile broadband services and the growing Internet of Things, and they were enthusiastic about the pending legislation. But many experts say it won't be enough to satisfy a ravenous public appetite for wireless broadband services.

Meredith Attwell Baker, a former FCC commissioner who is now president and CEO of the wireless industry trade association CTIA, said, "As other countries around the world are allocating large paired blocks of spectrum for future broadband needs, it is disappointing that we were not able to do more now to meet Americans' demands for 5G and the Internet of Things."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


Featured

  • Contracting
    8 prototypes of the border walls as tweeted by CBP San Diego

    DHS contractors face protests – on the streets

    Tech companies are facing protests internally from workers and externally from activists about doing for government amid controversial policies like "zero tolerance" for illegal immigration.

  • Workforce
    By Mark Van Scyoc Royalty-free stock photo ID: 285175268

    At OPM, Weichert pushes direct hire, pay agent changes

    Margaret Weichert, now acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, is clearing agencies to make direct hires in IT, cyber and other tech fields and is changing pay for specialized occupations.

  • Cloud
    Shutterstock ID ID: 222190471 By wk1003mike

    IBM protests JEDI cloud deal

    As the deadline to submit bids on the Pentagon's $10 billion, 10-year warfighter cloud deal draws near, IBM announced a legal protest.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.