Senators’ proposal gets wide praise for making more spectrum available for commercial use

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The legislation also aims to free up additional unlicensed spectrum to support Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

A bipartisan effort to release more federal spectrum for commercial use is getting all kinds of praise—including from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

The Advancing Innovation and Reinvigorating Widespread Access to Viable Electromagnetic Spectrum (AIRWAVES) Act, introduced by Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), encourages the federal government to continue to free up spectrum for commercial licensed and unlicensed use and includes a proposal to take a portion of the spectrum auction proceeds to fund wireless infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas.

Pai said in a statement that he's grateful to Sens. Gardner and Hassan for introducing the AIRWAVES Act. “This bipartisan bill addresses an issue that’s critical to continued American leadership in wireless innovation: making available more spectrum for commercial use," he said.

The senators said their legislation establishes a spectrum pipeline that will provide more capacity for wireless providers to improve existing service and expand to new areas. The AIRWAVES Act aims to motivate industry and federal agencies to find ways to better use spectrum and avoid a spectrum crunch and lay the groundwork for 5G technologies.

The legislation also aims to free up additional unlicensed spectrum to support wireless devices like tablets, as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies.

It’s the “rural dividend” component that Pai seemed particularly jazzed about. The chairman has often talked about how closing the digital divide and making broadband more widely available in rural areas is a top priority. 

“I’m also very pleased that they have proposed a ‘rural dividend,’ under which 10 percent of proceeds from spectrum auctions would be devoted to increasing wireless Internet access in rural areas,” he added. “This provision would go a long way toward closing the digital divide, which has left too many rural Americans in the analog era. I look forward to working with Senators Gardner and Hassan on their forward-thinking legislation.”

The AIRWAVES Act is garnering support from groups as diverse as CTIA, the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) and Public Knowledge—groups that don’t always see eye to eye on spectrum issues.

“CTIA applauds Senators Gardner and Hassan for their forward thinking, bipartisan leadership in introducing the AIRWAVES Act,” said Kelly Cole, senior vice president of Government Affairs at CTIA, in a statement. “This legislation provides a much needed long-term plan to unlock valuable licensed spectrum as demand for wireless data and content continues to skyrocket. A predictable spectrum pipeline is vital to meet consumers’ need for new and innovative services and sustain U.S. global leadership in a fast-approaching 5G world.”

CCA President and CEO Steven K. Berry commended Sens. Gardner and Hassan for introducing the bipartisan act. “I applaud Senators Gardner and Hassan for recognizing that many rural areas do not have mobile broadband services comparable to their urban counterparts, and for their focus on ensuring no rural area is left behind,” he said in a statement. “CCA supports the AIRWAVES Act and looks forward to continued work to move this legislation forward.”

Michael Calabrese, director of New America's Wireless Future Program, said the senators deserve credit for proposing an ambitious spectrum pipeline bill, but there's an opportunity to improve upon it.

“We look forward to working with the senators to improve the bill’s potential impact on the rural broadband gap,” he said. “There is an immediate opportunity to share 500 megahertz of underutilized satellite spectrum above 3.7 GHz for more affordable rural and small town broadband that will be lost if the sole focus is raising one-time auction revenue that requires clearing satellite incumbents off the band and takes a decade to implement.”

His group is among those that submitted a Petition for Rulemaking seeking to add a new, licensed, point-to-multipoint (P2MP) fixed wireless service in the underutilized 3700-4200 MHz band used primarily by fixed satellite services (FSS). Their proposed licensing scheme and operating rules would enable gigabit and near-gigabit broadband service in rural and underserved areas, and they say it promotes competition for broadband delivery among various technologies and licensees.