Budget deal would direct FCC, NTIA to find federal spectrum to auction

Buried within the mammoth budget deal that the White House and the Republican-led House have agreed to are provisions that would require the FCC and Department of Commerce to identify 30 MHz of government-held spectrum to be auctioned for commercial wireless use.    

The deal, which was turned into legislative language earlier this week and is expected to be approved by the House this week and the Senate next week, would extend the federal government's statutory debt limit until March 2017 and provide funding for the federal government for the next two fiscal years, among many other provisions. However, the spectrum sections of the legislation have attracted attention because they basically tuck in a separate bill the House had been considering, known as the "Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2015."

Lawmakers have been pushing for the government to relinquish airwaves following the record-breaking AWS-3 spectrum auction, which included some spectrum held by federal users. The auction attracted $44.9 billion in gross winning bids when it ended in January.

Under the law, no later than Jan. 1, 2022, the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) needs to submit to the president and the FCC a report identifying 30 MHz of spectrum below the 3 GHz band for reallocation from federal use to non-federal use or shared federal and non-federal use, or a combination thereof.

Importantly, the bill specifically prohibits the consideration of spectrum between 1675-1695 MHz. To mitigate interference concerns, LightSquared has submitted a request to the FCC to combine the 5 MHz it uses for satellite service at 1670-1675 MHz with frequencies in the 1675-1680 MHz band, currently used by National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather balloons. So it appears whoever wrote that provision does not want the spectrum LightSquared is angling for to be repurposed for commercial use.

As The Hill notes, it likely would take a long time for the auction to take place, as the bill gives the FCC until July 1, 2024, to conduct an auction.

Additionally, the bill mandates that the FCC produce two reports, in concert with the NTIA, each outlining a plan to auction 50 MHz of spectrum below 6 GHz not already identified for auction. It must produce the first report by 2022 and the second one by 2024.

The bill would let federal agencies use money from a fund meant to help them relocate their spectrum to study ways to free up existing spectrum holdings, the Hill noted.

For more:
- see this bill
- see this The Hill article
- see this Bloomberg article 

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