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FCC Commissioner Urges National Broadband Policy with Municipal Wi-Fi

A national broadband strategy should permit, and not prohibit, municipalities from offering high-speed Internet services, said Jonathan Adelstein.



WASHINGTON, May 29 – A national broadband strategy should permit, and not prohibit, municipalities from offering high-speed Internet services, Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said Thursday at summit on community wireless networks.

Adelstein said that broadband should be so much more available that communities wouldn’t find the need to build their own broadband network, speaking at the International Summit for Community Wireless Networks here.

But when local elected officials do take matters of broadband access into their own hands, they shouldn’t be barred from doing so, said Adelstein. Speaking of some recent setbacks in wireless projects in Philadelphia and San Francisco, he said: “To draw from those the conclusions that we should give up and allow states to ban these would be a huge mistake.”

At the same time, Adelstein said that “it is a shame that communities need to take that up. If we had a national broadband policy, there would be a way of making sure that every community had access” to the high-speed Internet.

In fact, Adelstein said that other countries surpassing the United States in global broadband availability had done so by relying, in part, on municipal wireless networks.

Adelstein said that he hoped that a national broadband policy would be ratified by the FCC “sooner rather than later.”

With regard to Net Neutrality, or the requirement that carriers not be allowed to discriminate among the origin or destination of Internet traffic, Adelstein said that the FCC needed a firmer policy on the subject.

The FCC has been investigating Comcast for alleged violations of the agency’s August 2005 “policy statement” on Net Neutrality. But the cable industry has replied that the policy is not enforcable. To that, Adelstein said, “If it is not enforceable, we have to make it a rule, and make it enforcable.”

Adelstein also linked the struggle to enact laws promoting Net Neutrality with anti-media-concentration policies.

The decade of the 1990s witnessed the founding of many media conglomerates, he said. Adelstein said he and his allies prevented the passage of policies that would have enabled even greater concentration. Although there was a natural struggle for influence among corporate entities at a regulatory agency like the FCC, he said that the American spirit calls for an open, decentralized, localized, and neutral media.

Adelstein also suggested that participation in elections could increase if the United States adopted a national broadband policy.

He also reminded the audience of how a national broadband policy, if implemented, might help to reverse America’s stagnant position among global competitors.

Expert Opinion

Joel Thayer: No 5G Spectrum Means No Digital Future

The 5G war is on and there’s a lot of concern about the U.S. position vis-a-vis China.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Joel Thayer, president of the Digital Progress Institute.

The White House just released its national spectrum strategy, and it couldn’t be more timely. The 5G war is on and there’s a lot of concern about the U.S.’s position vis-a-vis China’s.

Given that we are in the midst of World Radio Conference—the international conference that decides how we structure global 5G networks–an assessment of where we are in relation to spectrum allocation and what we need to do to secure our dominant position in the race to 5G becomes all the more important.

Spectrum, for the unfamiliar, is the reason you are able to read this article from a mobile device. It is the invisible real estate that allows 5G networks to transition services, like autonomous vehicles, precision agriculture, and even artificial intelligence, from science fiction into today’s reality.

In no uncertain terms, without spectrum, there is no mobile revolution. Think about every device that relies on wireless networks. Your smartphone, laptop, smartwatch, Fitbit, and Airtags are just some of the products fueled by spectrum. Without spectrum, they won’t work.

And for nearly a decade, we have dominated the race to 5G. We did so, because we made 5G a national priority and coordinated an interagency effort to build out 5G networks. And it worked. By 2020, we led the world on 5G speeds and the procurement and distribution of valuable spectrum.

The U.S. is in a rebuilding year

If we were an NFL team, we were Tom Brady’s New England Patriots.

But, akin to the Patriots’ 2023 season, we’re in a rebuilding year. We have no new high-powered mid-band spectrum in the pipeline and some of the spectrum we do have available is getting bogged down due to unnecessary intergovernmental fighting.

Even if we did, it would be incredibly hard to get the spectrum out into the market expeditiously because Congress allowed the Federal Communications Commission’s spectrum auction authority to lapse—something that had never before happened since Congress granted it in the 1990s. This lapse of authority has not just stalled new spectrum from coming into the market but has also prevented the FCC from releasing nearly 8,000 licenses of valuable 2.5 GigaHertz (GHz) mid-band spectrum purchased last year.

Conservative estimates show that 5G must be able to support the data transmissions of 1 million devices for every third of a mile. And we expect there to be 41.6 billion devices online in less than two years. Our networks won’t be able to handle that onslaught.

What’s more, the advent of AI will require even more data transmissions over our 5G networks and will inevitably strain them. Without a refilled spectrum pipeline, data-driven applications—like AI—will become a pipedream for the U.S.

Worse, this opens the door for China to pick up its pace on 5G and 6G. Much of what China is doing in spectrum and deployment are to position itself to win in 6G. How? Because 6G builds on 5G, much like 5G built on 4G/LTE. Hence, if China wins here, 6G networks will be built on their 5G foundation.

We need to keep up our pace.

The U.S. is constrained by the lack of spectrum auction authority

But here’s the rub, the Administration is constrained in what it can do to open up new bands and get spectrum out into the market quickly.

For example, the FCC has said repeatedly that it won’t release spectrum it has already auctioned, specifically in the 2.5 GHz band, without its auction authority being reauthorized.

But you know what branch of government isn’t constrained? Congress.

And there’s some good news on that front. Sen. John Kennedy’s 5G Spectrum Authority Licensing Enforcement (SALE) Act unanimously passed a rollcall vote in the Senate. The SALE Act would allow the FCC to move forward on releasing those 8,000 2.5 GHz licenses, which allows T-Mobile to enhance its existing 5G networks. This action alone creates more competition in 5G offerings, which inevitably lowers the price for consumers.

But more must done!

With the National Spectrum Strategy, the Administration has given Congress a path forward to turn our franchise around. The Administration’s plan identifies the lower 3 GHz and the 7-8 GHz bands as primary contenders for a strong pipeline of spectrum for private sector use—bands Congress itself identified in last year’s draft of the bipartisan Spectrum Innovation Act.

Better yet, the strategy does not foreclose looking at less controversial mid-band spectrum—particularly bands that build on mid-band spectrum already in the market, like in 4.4-4.9 GHz range. Using this spectrum can create a more contiguous band of 5G mid-band spectrum to handle the immense data transmissions we’ll see from AI.

Lastly, Congress needs to reauthorize the FCC’s spectrum auction authority to ensure we can get this spectrum into the market expeditiously.

Although we won’t likely auction off any new spectrum in the next year—just as the Patriots will not make the playoffs, we can use this as a teachable moment to rebuild and strengthen our networks. It would behoove Congress to move fast because while we twiddle our thumbs, China continues to build.

Joel Thayer is president of the Digital Progress Institute and an attorney based in Washington, D.C. The Digital Progress Institute is a nonprofit seeking to bridge the policy divide between telecom and tech through bipartisan consensus. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Temporary FCC Spectrum Auction Bill Clears House Committee

An identical bill passed the Senate in September.



Screenshot of Rep. John Joyce, R-Pennsylvania, at the House Energy and Commerce Committee markup on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON, December 5, 2023 – The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday cleared a bill that would allow the Federal Communications Commission to issue already auctioned spectrum licenses. An identical bill passed the Senate in September.

The FCC’s authority to auction off spectrum and issue licenses expired for the first time in March. At that time the commission had auctioned 8,000 licenses in the 2.5 GigaHertz band for 5G networks, but had yet to issue them.

The 5G SALE Act, introduced in September by Rep. John Joyce, R-Pennsylvania, would give the FCC authority to release those licenses, allowing winners to expand their service areas.

The bill will now go to the full House for a vote.

FCC commissioners have been pushing for a full reinstatement of their auction authority, but supported the stopgap bill at an oversight hearing held by the committee on November 30. 

“The licensees deserve to get access to that spectrum,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said at the hearing. “You’re going to hopefully expedite the day when they do.”

T-mobile would see the biggest expansion if the bill becomes law. It spent over $300 million on 7,156 licenses in the band.

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Defense Study Says Sharing Lower 3 GHz Band Not Currently Possible: NTIA

NTIA head Alan Davidson told lawmakers the unpublished study says sharing in the band is not currently feasible.



Screenshot of NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson at Tuesday's hearing.

WASHINGTON, December 5, 2023 – A Department of Defense study on the lower 3 gigahertz band has found the agency cannot currently share the spectrum with commercial users, National Telecommunications and Information Administration Administrator Alan Davidson told lawmakers on Tuesday.

The spectrum has been eyed by industry for use in 5G networks. A trade group representing wireless carriers published a report in August arguing that 150 MHz of the 350 MHz band could be shared with commercial users without jeopardizing national security.

Davidson said the DOD’s report leaves open the possibility of sharing in the future if certain conditions are met, but makes clear the spectrum can’t be opened up in the near future. 

“The answer is no right now. They’ve not seen a way forward on that. And we think their technical work in that area is strong,” he said.

The report was mandated by the 2021 Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act and has been on the NTIA’s desk since late September. The agency has been working to brief lawmakers on the findings, some of which are classified, but was not able to do so before Tuesday’s House oversight hearing, Davidson said.

As outlined by the Biden administration’s spectrum plan, the NTIA will continue to study opening the band in the future. The two options for that, Davidson said, are changes that would make sharing possible or moving a government system to another band. That and other studies are set to be completed within two years.

“There are no easy answers here,” he said. “But we felt the band was too important to give up.”

The NTIA has been looking into the band for years, since a report on its potential for commercial use was mandated by a 2015 law. Under that law, the Federal Communications Commission is supposed to use the agency’s findings to auction off licenses allowing use of the band’s spectrum by summer 2024. 

The FCC’s ability to carry out such an auction expired in March after Congress failed to extend it, in part because of concerns over auctioning sensitive bands like the lower 3 GHz.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee cleared in May a bill that would reinstate that authority. That bill would allow for, but not mandate, an auction of the lower 3 GHz band.

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