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House of Representatives

C-Band Hearing Showcases Divisions Over Auctions, Uses of Radio Frequencies

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Defense Department photo of Rep. Mike Doyle from January 2017 by Marvin Lynchard

WASHINGTON, October 29, 2019 – Mid-band radiofrequencies in the so-called “C-Band” are underutilized but not unused, said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., at a Tuesday hearing on this key mid-band spectrum.

The C-Band Alliance, a coalition of satellite service providers, had testified before the Committee this past July. Pallone disagreed with the CBA’s support for the private purchase of spectrum to wireless carriers.

The Alliance’s recent offer to make a voluntary payment to the U.S. Treasury from their multi-billion-dollar private sale, Pallone said, raises novel enforcement and transparency issues. It would also be an unprecedented departure from the way Congress has instructed the Federal Communications Commission to reallocate spectrum in the past, he said.

In the wake of the so-called “incentive auction,” which allow broadcasters to put frequencies up for auction, Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle, D-Penn., said it was good to see incumbent spectrum rights holders offer to work with the government to reallocate spectrum.

However, Doyle continued, it’s concerning that several satellite companies have voiced the desire for a private C-Band auction. Not only would these companies sell spectrum that they did not purchase, he said, but they would hold most of the auction’s profits and reimburse the U.S. Treasury on a voluntary basis.

The FCC has signaled an intent to showcase progress of spectrum sharing in the C-Band , said Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio., making critical mid-band spectrum available for 5G wireless technologies.

While bipartisan market-based principles have helped innovation for the past two decades, Latta said, other countries continue to develop additional spectrum for commercial use. Lawmakers should encourage the FCC and industry leaders to work together to ensure that spectrum management serves the public interest, he said.

The hearing featured witnesses from industry and nonprofit organizations. Regardless of what type of auction is initiated, said Ross Lieberman, senior vice president of government affairs at the cable association ACA Connects, it’s important that rural Americans are unharmed in 5G deployment.

Under ACA’s 5G plan, he said, a transparent public auction could put spectrum to its highest and best use.

However, Lieberman added, the FCC’s plan to reallocate up to 300 megahertz for 5G mobile wireless deployment may harm ACA Connects members who are small cable operators. At minimum, operators would have to install fiber into their systems to prevent interference, which he said was not an affordable option. Auction proceeds would be better spent on fiber infrastructure and other goods that serve the public interest, he said.

Government-led spectrum transitions have been “tremendously difficult and slow,” said Cisco Vice President of Government Affairs Jeff Campbell. He said that mobile service traffic will rise five-fold by 2022.

5G technology can make our economy work better, Campbell said, by providing a ubiquitously available set of wireless capabilities. In the case of this technology in the 3 GHz band, there are national competitive interests at stake that warrant moving expeditiously in the auction process.

Authorization to use spectrum does not constitute ownership, said Deborah Collier, director of technology and telecommunications policy at Citizens Against Government Waste. The C-Band spectrum is unique, she said, in that the only clear ownership within the band is by the federal government.

The FCC can use incentive auction authorization to allocate federally held unused spectrum for mobile providers, Collier said. Another proposal recommends that the net proceeds from an FCC-conducted auction be used to build out fiber across the country, effectively delivering data between broadcast stations.

Also, she added, if the FCC conducts the auction, a larger portion of the potential 60 billion in proceeds will go to the taxpayers than under the CBA plan.

James Frownfelter, chairman and CEO of the global satellite company ABS, said that the FCC may confiscate C-Band spectrum from satellite operators to make room for 5G services.

Any proposal to confiscate small satellite operator spectrum without compensation, Frownfelter said, would be anticompetitive, reduce the value of all spectrum licenses and undermine future investment.

To ensure investment in satellite and terrestrial wireless networks, he said, the FCC should permit a private sector auction that fairly and equitably compensates all FCC licensed satellite operators.

Any benefits of C-Band’s reallocation must flow directly to the public, said Phillip Berenbroick, policy director at Public Knowledge. A public auction would not only free up airwaves for 5G mobile broadband but can also generate substantial revenues that Congress could use to address pressing national needs, such as closing the digital divide.

In contrast, Berenbroick said, a private auction would introduce unnecessary uncertainty. If the auction fails, it could cause significant delay and unnecessary legal risk. The FCC can help deliver high speed broadband to unserved areas as well as include small and rural broadband providers in the auction process.

Broadband's Impact

House Commerce Committee Aligned on Telecom, Mapping and Supply Chain Security, Says Ranking Member

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Photo from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers' website

March 18, 2021 – House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, said Wednesday that the committee was among the most bipartisan on issues including telecom.

Rodgers, who was speaking at the Internet Innovation Alliance with co-chair Bruce Mehlman, said that her Republican colleagues have put forth 28 solutions that would remove regulatory barriers and streamline broadband processes yet demonstrate funding is being spent wisely. She called on the government to ensure cost-effective ways to spend federal dollars.

She said the committee’s priority must be on accurate broadband mapping. That requires funding for more granular data. She also argued for national security against China, including on solar and wind energy products.

Rodgers also said she was excited about low-earth orbit satellites and the potential future they bring in connecting parts of the country with internet that have been “economically unfeasible in the past.”

Asked of her thoughts on virtual learning from home, especially how her 14-year old son with down syndrome is faring, Rodgers said she was completely in favor of reopening schools safely because not all parents have the means to provide optimal learning spaces at home.

Calling herself a working mother who could afford to provide an assistant to help her son through his school day, Rodgers said it was not the best way to learn when compared to in-person schooling.

This came after she said the country has the best networks and “some of the fastest speeds at the lowest prices in the world for internet service.”

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House of Representatives

Emphasis on Combating COVID-19 and Rebuilding Infrastructure at First Energy and Commerce Meeting

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Photo of Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, by Bonnie Cash used with permission

January 28, 2021—During the first organizational meeting of the House Commerce Committee of the 117th Congress, Chairman Frank Pallone of New Jersey welcomed the newest members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The bulk of the Committee’s first meeting was dedicated to discussing best practices to reduce healthcare and prescription drug costs, rebuild and modernize the nation’s infrastructure, and combat climate change.

Members further discussed rebuilding and restoring the essential functions of key agencies. Strengthening the Center for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency were deemed essential. Members considered the waning of the two agencies to be at “the very heart” of creating some of the nation’s most pressing current legislative and policy issues.

Members also approved governing procedures and announce subcommittee chairs, ranking members, and other subcommittee assignments.

Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington is  the new ranking member, and the first woman in that role for the committee.

Pallone further announced Democratic members joining the Committee, including Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, known for her interest in climate change and infrastructure. Rep. Angie Craig, of Minnesota, was touted for work on the Affordable Care Act. Rep. Kim Schrier of Washington was recognized for her work as a pediatrician.

Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts has an interested in the opioid pandemic and the environment. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Texas is focused on first responders and firefighting foams.

Pallone addressed members of the committee in the 117th Congress

Pallone thanked members and reiterated the need to enact policies to combat COVID-19 through vaccine distribution. He criticized former President Donald Trump for lacking effective implementation strategies to vaccinate more Americans sooner.

He said policies were needed that “provide critical assistance to struggling families, rebuild our economy, and bring an end to the pandemic, so people can begin to safely return to regular practice of life.”

Pallone praised President Joe Biden’s executive orders on vaccine distribution, expanded access to testing, and utilization of the Defense Production Act, which allows continued access to medical supplies and personal protective equipment for testing and vaccination.

The committee also took time to celebrate its own 225th birthday, which occurred last month. It is the oldest committee in the House.

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Broadband Mapping

At INCOMPAS, Top House Democrats Say Republicans’ COVID-19 Broadband Response Inadequate

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Screenshot of Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Penn., at the INCOMPAS conference

September 15, 2020 – The lack of access to broadband is still a widespread issue across the country, especially in rural areas, two top House Democrats said Tuesday at the INCOMPAS virtual show ConnectIn.

“The failures of this administration are forcing people to put their health and their family’s health at risk,” said Pennsylvanian Mike Doyle, Chairman of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

“We can’t rely on corporate promises or donations—we need Congress to act” on funding for broadband to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. The billions of dollars of funding for students, families, and those hit by the pandemic have been insufficient for the moment, he said.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina highlighted the certainty that broadband will be a top priority of the 117th Congress next year.

Broadband “will absolutely be a top priority next year, said Clyburn. “Anything we do this year will be insufficient.”

Screenshot of House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., at the INCOMPAS conference

Clyburn also advocated for broadband to be viewed as a utility. Last year when Clyburn formed the Rural Broadband Taskforce, his goal was to get broadband to be “classified as an infrastructure issue.”

“We call the internet the information highway. So, let’s treat it like we treat the interstate highways—a necessary entity to get us where we want to be.”

He argued that getting the internet in every home was the key to getting healthcare and online learning to rural communities: “Without the broadband we cannot have telehealth. we cannot have online learning. If you aren’t connected, you aren’t going to get educated.”

Democrats’ funding proposals for broadband don’t get traction with the Republican-controlled chamber

Doyle explained that since the start of the pandemic, the government has spent $2 billion in online learning and $1 billion to expand broadband for those with low income.

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, H.R. 6800, put $5 billion toward remote learning and $9 billion toward emergency connectivity for low income and recently unemployed Americans. The measure passed the Democratic-controlled House 208-199 in May. It languishes in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Doyle asserted that the $100 billion Moving Forward Act, the Democrat’s pre-pandemic infrastructure measure H.R. 2, was the country’s most significant proposal to close the digital divide.

Doyle further presented four goals for addressing issues of connectivity in rural areas.

First, policy-makers should make historic investment in broadband, connecting all Americans. Second, lower the cost of broadband. Third, ensure students have the technology that they need. And finally, combat misinformation on the internet.

Clyburn suggested that government efforts keep the home and the economy in mind when designing relief programs. Bringing better-quality broadband to rural areas will greatly improve the economy because by allowing rural business owners to function more efficiently, because rural business owners wouldn’t need to go to the nearest city just to have access to reliable broadband..

Clyburn also highlighted the need for reform of broadband mapping.

In rural areas, he explained, some communities are still set up similarly to how plantations were, with a single large house and other smaller houses surrounding it.

He scolded broadband mappers for deeming the area “covered” when only a big house had coverage and the little ones did not.

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