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Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Tackles Question of Public Versus Private Auction of C-Band Spectrum

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Photo of Sen. Kennedy courtesy the senator's office

WASHINGTON, October 17, 2019 – A Senate Appropriations subcommittee focused questions at a Thursday hearing on the Federal Communication Commission’s spectrum auctions on the dynamics of a public versus private auction of the C-Band.

Financial Services Subcommittee Chairman John Kennedy, R-La., expressed his preference for a public auction. In particular, he argued that foreign companies shouldn’t reap the benefits of American innovation.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was the lead witness, and he advocated for a “market-based approach” is the best way to make spectrum more available for 5G.

Mid-band spectrum – which includes the C-Band primarily under discussion — combine good coverage with good capacity, Pai said. That’s one reason why the agency is planning to use dynamic spectrum sharing within the C-Band, which will operate at between 3.7 GigaHertz (GHz) and 4.2 GHz.

Pai explained that spectrum sharing allows federal and non-federal users to coexist within the same band, with each group possessing protection from harmful interference.

Because existing spectrum licenses cover barely half of the country, Pai said, the FCC can and should do more to allow broadband wireless service in more locations.

The biggest concern about 5G, said Kennedy, is that it may this next generation of wireless technology might not be widely deployed in suburban and rural communities. That’s why the Louisiana senator said that the FCC needed to allocate C-Band spectrum in such a way that rural Americans weren’t left behind, he said.

Another concern about the auction, said Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., is how to ensure liability if licensed spectrum service is interrupted by unlicensed users. He said that public auction would help hold these parties accountable.

Also testifying was Tom Schatz, president at Citizens Against Government Waste, and David Williams, President at Taxpayers Protection Alliance. They argued that a public auction is the most profitable and equitable option for American taxpayers.

Williams criticized the intentions of the C-Band Alliance, calling it a “taxpayer rip-off.” He said its members have been evasive with the contents of their proposal and how much money will be returned to the U.S. Treasury.

There’s no way of knowing who’s going to get the spectrum in a private auction, Williams said. The FCC will be involved regardless of what type of auction it is, so it makes more sense to host an auction that will be more beneficial to taxpayers, he said.

An auction with strong FCC oversight would make sure spectrum is properly allocated, added Schatz. The CBA, on the other hand, has only mentioned their intents to sell the spectrum.

With the normal FCC auction process, he said, proceeds would go to taxpayers and incumbent users of the spectrum would be protected. A private sale conducted by a small group of satellite companies would raise questions about their ability to sell something that they do not own.

Because airwaves are a public resource, Schatz added, it’s the federal government’s responsibility to exercise appropriate oversight of its allocation. A public auction offers both transparency and equal opportunity, he said.

Senate

National 6G Strategy Bill Passes Senate Commerce Committee

The Next Generation Telecommunications Act received bipartisan support.

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Photo of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto by Senate Democrats, via Wikimedia

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2022 – Legislation that would create a council to advise Congress on 6G and other wireless technologies and how they may power smart cities on Tuesday passed the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation committee with bipartisan support.

In addition to advising Congress on the state of technology in the telecommunications industry, the council would also develop a comprehensive, national telecom strategy, which will address topics related to technology, workforce demands and security.

The bill, Next Generation Telecommunications Act, S.3014,was introduced by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., who said in a press release that the legislation is a key part of her state’s goal of being “on the cutting edge of new technologies.

“We’ve got to promote American competitiveness in these kind of cutting-edge technologies that we’re building in Nevada,” Cortze Masto said in a statement on the bill. “That means improving access to quality broadband, ensuring we have the necessary workforce, and putting in safeguards to make sure we protect emerging technologies.”

The council would be comprised of 15 members including the deputy secretary of Commerce, the assistant secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, the undersecretary of the National Institute of Standards, the chairperson of the Federal Communications Commission, and the director of the National Science Foundation.

The council would also feature three members appointed by the majority leader of the Senate, two members appointed by the minority leader of the Senate, three members appointed by the Speaker of the House, and two members appointed by the minority leader of the House.

The bill has received notable bipartisan support: it is co-sponsored by two Republicans and two additional Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ben Luján, D-N.M.

“As China and other countries seek to exploit communications networks for surveillance and intellectual property theft, the U.S. needs a cohesive strategy for the safe deployment of next-generation wireless technologies,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

South Dakota senator and Senate Republican minority whip John Thune also came out in support of the bill. “This bill would allow the United States to continue competing on the global stage, and it would help prepare the United States to lead the way in deploying next-generation technology, including 6G. I’ll continue to work on bipartisan solutions that will increase innovation and bolster the private sector’s ability to compete in this emerging space.”

The bill must now get through a general vote in the Senate, at which point it will need to also pass the House.

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Senate

Gigi Sohn Nomination for FCC Advances Out of Commerce Committee on Party Lines

Nomination of Alvaro Bedoya to the FTC can also advance to the floor following a party-line vote.

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Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

WASHINGTON, March 4, 2022 –  President Joe Biden’s nominee to the Federal Communications Commission Gigi Sohn saw her nomination advance out of the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday following a vote split along party lines.

Sohn, as well as Biden’s nominee to the Federal Trade Commission Alvaro Bedoya, did not receive the vote of a single Republican on the committee while receiving the support of all Democrats including more moderate senators such as Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., allowing for their nominations to advance to a full vote on the Senate floor.

Republican ranking member of the committee Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi stated that on the FCC Sohn would have the appearance of conflicts of interest related to her involvement in past legal battles and cited her past recusals on retransmission consent as problematic.

The controversy is related to Sohn’s involvement with nonprofit streaming service Locast which attempted to make local broadcast network content available to the public for free, sparking copyright lawsuits.

Wicker stated that Bedoya was too divisive and not unifying enough to serve on the FTC, a trend of partisanship that he says is new to the agency.

Strong Democratic support for both nominees makes their confirmations in the Senate seem quite plausible. Should all Republicans vote against the nominations, the approval of all Democratic senators will be required in the deadlocked Senate so that the vice president may break vote ties in the nominees’ favors.

Both the FCC and FTC remain split along party lines, and the confirmations of Sohn and Bedoya would give Democrats the upper hand at the agencies.

The nominations’ advancements out of committee earned praise from telecom industry groups such as think tank New America, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, and intellectual property nonprofit Public Knowledge – the organization Sohn formerly headed.

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Infrastructure

Alan Davidson’s NTIA Nomination Clears Commerce Committee, On to Senate Floor

The committee did not raise Gigi Sohn’s nomination during its meeting.

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WASHINGTON, December 15, 2021 – The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday voted to approve President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the National Telecommunications and Information Association Alan Davidson.

Davidson’s nomination will now be brought up for a confirmation vote before the entire Senate.

The committee approved Davidson, a former public policy director at Google, by voice vote. Republican Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Rick Scott, R-Fla., were the only senators to express reservations with Davidson.

Telecom trade associations reacted favorably to Wednesday’s committee vote.

The NCTA said Davidson’s role at the NTIA would be “critically important” to broadband funding and implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in unserved and underserved communities.

Utilities Technology Council President and CEO Sheryl Osiene-Riggs lauded Davidson’s “diverse background in public service and the private sector,” and US Telecom President and CEO Jonathan Spalter called Wednesday’s developments “super important.”

Consideration of Gigi Sohn’s nomination to the Federal Communications Commission was not on the Commerce Committee’s agenda Wednesday. She faced opposition in the Senate in part due to her ties to the since-shuttered streaming service Locast.

Additionally on Wednesday, the committee voted on a bipartisan basis to advance the Securing Semiconductor Supply Chains Act of 2021 amid ongoing supply chain delays in the shipping of semiconductor chips.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., would direct Commerce Department trade promotion agency SelectUSA to increase collaboration with state economic development organizations to attract foreign direct investment in the semiconductor industry.

Additionally, a group of eight former NTIA administrators on Wednesday asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to quickly hold a vote so that the full Senate can quickly approve Davidson as the agency’s next leader.

The group:

  1. David Redl (NTIA Administrator 2017 – 2019)
  2. Lawrence E. Strickling (NTIA Administrator 2009 – 2017)
  3. Meredith Attwell Baker (Acting NTIA Administrator 2007 – 2008)
  4. John Kneuer (NTIA Administrator 2006 – 2007)
  5. Michael Gallagher (NTIA Administrator 2003 – 2006)
  6. Nancy Victory (NTIA Administrator 2001 – 2003)
  7. Greg Rohde (NTIA Administrator 1999 – 2001)
  8. Larry Irving (NTIA Administrator 1993 – 1999)
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