Congress looks to free up federal spectrum

Shutterstock image (by kstudija): telecommunications radio tower. 

Lawmakers are taking another swing at a plan to give federal agencies incentives to relinquish or share their wireless spectrum holdings, so that it could be sold to commercial users.

Reps. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), co-chairs of the Congressional Spectrum Caucus, reintroduced the latest version of Federal Spectrum Incentive Act on April 4.

The legislation would encourage federal agencies to give up their spectrum holdings for auction to the private sector in exchange for a financial incentive.

The effort is the latest in a line of such efforts, as amount of radio spectrum available to the private sector for new communications technologies and services is finite and in great demand. The Federal Spectrum Incentive Act was first introduced in 2015, and a previous attempt was introduced in 2013.

Guthrie and Matsui said the additional spectrum from federal agencies would fuel smartphone 5G networks, Wi-Fi, the internet of things and countless applications that affect the lives of everyday Americans. Even though those technologies use spectrum more efficiently, the legislators warned the finite well of useable radio spectrum is running dry.

Federal agencies' spectrum holdings, they said, could replenish that dwindling commercial resource.

"Right now, federal agency holdings are so extensive that they may be getting in the way of commercial innovation," Guthrie said in a joint statement with Matsui.

"However, federal and commercial needs are not mutually exclusive," he continued. "By providing incentives for government agencies to consolidate their use of spectrum bands, we can encourage innovation in the private sector and lower the cost of wireless technology for consumers."

Under the bill, agencies would be eligible to receive a portion of the proceeds from the auction of cleared spectrum. The 2015 bill specifies that any such proceeds can be used only to buy back cuts under sequestration or to cover costs of relocating spectrum activities.

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 [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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