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Dynamic Spectrum Sharing Subject of Debate at Senate Commerce Committee Hearing on the Future

Adrienne Patton

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Photo of the witness table at Senate Commerce Committee hearing on industries of the future by Adrienne Patton

WASHINGTON, January 16, 2020 - Senators raised a grab bag of concerns about broadband mapping, the digital divide, spectrum sharing and online misinformation at a Wednesday hearing featuring top government officials in the communications and technology industries.

Democrat-appointed Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel sparred with her Republican colleague, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly over whether the U.S. was winning the race for deployment of the wireless 5G standard, and what Congress and the FCC should do to expedite 5G.

Rosenworcel said that 5G had only been deployed in urban markets, not rural. She said that the FCC needed to be more active in making mid-band spectrum, such as airwaves in the C-Band from 3.7 GigaHertz (GHz) to 4.2 GHz, to boost higher-speed wireless deployments.

She said dynamic spectrum sharing tools for utilizing the C-Band were ready to deploy and could immediately go to market. She criticized the FCC’s slow pace in making it available.

But O’Rielly pushed back against Rosenworcel’s assertion. He referred to the Citizens Band Radio Service auction of mid-band spectrum at 3.5 GHz, and which is scheduled for June 2020.

Referring to the C-Band, O’Rielly said that there were policy and software complications that delayed the timeline. He also said that 5G deployments – wherever offered on the radio frequency dial – “have the opportunity to revolutionize wireless communication” by supporting 22.3 million jobs and trillions in economic growth.

One general theme animating the senators questioning the witnesses was concern about the digital divide and weaknesses in mapping, which continue to impede broadband deployment.

A broadband map must come first, said Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nevada, or effective deployment cannot begin.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, was concerned about the lack on connectivity in his home state. He questioned the FCC’s ability to deploy broadband in rural communities and said the digital divide between urban and rural American is simply “crazy.”

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., touted a bill he proposed to bring Wi-Fi to rural school buses in an effort to close the homework gap. Rosenworcel agreed that Wi-Fi on school buses would greatly help rural students, as seven in 10 teachers now assign homework that requires internet access.

National Science Foundation Director France Córdova touted the importance of dynamic spectrum sharing of signals spread over large frequencies. Because spectrum is limited and precious, it’s crowded and crucial that none of it be wasted.

She and other witnesses highlighted the ability for Congress and the FCC to authorize tools permitting such dynamic spectrum sharing, supporting Rosenworcel’s emphasis on allowing spectrum sharing in the C-Band.

Córdova also spoke of how the NSF had set up a test bed for dynamic spectrum sharing, underscoring witnesses’ belief in more research on spectrum-sharing.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, asked what could be done to ensure against deepfakes.

Córdova replied that the NSF invests in the research needed to develop unbiased and ethical artificial intelligence. U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios agreed that, with regard to AI, R&D should be the government’s primary focus. Then, it could partner with international allies who will also enforce safe principles of AI.

Córdova expressed concern for a workforce prepared for the industries of the future. While we have technologies to deploy, they will not thrive without a skilled workforce, she said.

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