Report: Former FCC Commissioner McDowell expects legislation to free up more spectrum

Former Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell thinks senior members of the Commerce Committees in both the House and Senate will introduce legislation, perhaps by the end of this month, to free up more spectrum for auction that is currently held by government agencies.

McDowell disclosed his views yesterday in a conference call with reporters, according to a Broadcasting & Cable report, and said his information was based on sources he had spoken to in Congress. McDowell is currently a partner at the law firm Wiley Rein, which has a number of wireless carrier clients, and McDowell, like almost every FCC commissioner in the last five or six years, has pushed hard to free up more airwaves for wireless use.

The recent AWS-3 spectrum auction, which raised nearly $45 billion in gross winning bids, helped "put the wind in the sales" of new legislation. The AWS-3 auction repurposed government airwaves for commercial wireless use, though it will take time for government users to vacate the spectrum.

According to McDowell, the legislation would identify spectrum to reclaim and likely allow unlicensed use. He also noted on the call that the government has up to 80 percent of the most broadband-friendly spectrum.

McDowell said there was a "unique opportunity" for Congress to pass a bipartisan spectrum bill to have the government give up some of its spectrum before the end of the year, according to Broadcasting & Cable. He noted that the legislation would spur auctions that would bring billions into the Treasury, which could win it wide favor in Congress.  

In July the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) said that during the past five years it has freed up 245 MHz of spectrum for licensed and unlicensed commercial wireless communications. And the agency said it remains on track to release about that same amount during the next five years.

However, McDowell noted, as have others, that after next year's planned incentive auction of 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum, there is little licensed spectrum in the pipeline for carriers.

"As we have said through the summer, a spectrum pipeline is necessary to unleash the next wave of wireless innovation and economic growth, and for the U.S. to remain the global wireless leader as we move toward 5G," Jot Carpenter, vice president of government affairs for CTIA, said in a statement. "If Congress is ready to take up legislation to achieve those objectives, we stand ready to help."

CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker, who served as an FCC commissioner herself, has been pushing hard to get more spectrum available for wireless services, noting that while the 600 MHz auction will provide some hope for more spectrum for wireless services, more will likely be needed long-term. "Mobile broadband demand cannot be met by improved spectral efficiency alone," she said at an industry event in May. "More towers and more wireless infrastructure can never be enough, and the AWS-3 [spectrum auction] and the incentive auction will not suffice."

Baker called for "a renewed discussion on where the next bands of airwaves will come from to ensure our future connected life is realized. We just had AWS-3, and the broadcast incentive auction looms ahead of us. And after that, right now, we don't know what's next."

For more:
- see this Broadcasting & Cable article 

Related articles:
FCC lays out 600 MHz auction roadmap, will kick off process in 'early fall'
NTIA: 245 MHz of spectrum freed so far for wireless, on track for 500 MHz by 2020
CTIA: It takes 13 years, on average, to reallocate spectrum for carriers
AT&T, NAB, others decry FCC's move to release more 600 MHz white spaces spectrum for unlicensed use
T-Mobile only major carrier that seems enthusiastic about 600 MHz auction, as broadcasters are split
T-Mobile loses battle on spectrum reserve in 600 MHz incentive auction