House Passes 5G SALE Act, Will Reinstate Limited FCC Authority

The measure empowers the FCC to allocate spectrum licenses auctioned before March 9, 2023.

House Passes 5G SALE Act, Will Reinstate Limited FCC Authority
Photo of US Senator Bob Latta, R-Ohio

WASHINGTON, December 13, 2023 – Legislation that would grant temporary spectrum licensing authority to the Federal Communications Commission unanimously passed the House on Monday, and is now awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature.

Upon signing, the 5G Spectrum Authority Licensing Enforcement (SALE) Act would empower the FCC to allocate spectrum licenses that were auctioned on or before March 9, 2023.

That was the date on which the agency’s blanket authority to auction radio frequency licenses expired.

Still, the agency is unable to award successful bidders from the 2.5 GigaHertz (GHz) band auction held last year. The now-passed bill acts as a temporary measure to expedite the issuance of licenses to companies that have already paid for them.

The legislation addresses a need stemming from months of delays and disagreement on legislative packages that would have continued under the FCC’s spectrum auction authority.

In the 118th Congress, a total of four bills were introduced that would have prevented a lapse in the FCC’s spectrum auction authority: H.R. 1108, H.R. 3345, H.R. 3565, and S.B. 650. All proposed short-term extensions to the FCC’s auction authority, to provide Congress time to agree on a comprehensive spectrum policy.

Even in the 117th Congress, a long-term extension was proposed, H.R. 7624, which would have extended the agency’s authority until March 2024.

While numerous members have shown backing for restoring the authority, they haven’t come to a consensus regarding the duration of the restoration. Some members have advocated for a decade-long extension similar to the approach taken by the Obama Administration in 2012, citing it as integral to innovation and economic growth in the United States.

A further point of contention is that some members are looking to couple the extension of FCC licensing authority with comprehensive spectrum legislation that identifies specific spectrum bands for auction.

Members of Congress have iterated the need for the Department of Defense to complete a study of the 3.1-3.45 GHz band before proceeding. The DoD completed the study last week and found that it cannot currently share that spectrum with commercial users National Telecommunications and Information Administrator Alan Davidson testified before Congress.

The SALE Act has surfaced amidst ongoing appeals from industry and government to reinstate the FCC’s spectrum licensing authority.

On Monday, Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, and Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, urged Congress to take more decisive action in restoring the FCC’s authority to issue spectrum licenses, speaking during a CSIS webinar. Young specifically called for Congress to “provide the Commission with a Congressionally-directed spectrum pipeline.”

The legislators emphasized the potential consequence of the US falling behind in wireless deployment if immediate measures are not taken.

The lapse has generated uncertainty concerning FCC spectrum planning endeavors and future spectrum availability.

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