Senators Cruz, Thune weigh in on FCC’s refusal to grant 2.5 GHz licenses to T-Mobile

Two Republican senators sent a letter to Jessica Rosenworcel, chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), urging her to grant T-Mobile the 2.5 GHz spectrum licenses it won in last summer’s Auction 108.

Since the FCC’s auction authority lapsed in March, Rosenworcel has said that the agency does not currently have the legal authority to grant T-Mobile its spectrum licenses, nor does it have the authority to grant T-Mobile’s request for special temporary licenses to start deploying the spectrum.

In their August 14 letter to Rosenworcel, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and John Thune (R-SD) argue that even though the FCC has lost its auction authority, it has not lost its ability to grant licenses that have already been won at auction and paid for by T-Mobile.

But Rosenworcel disagrees with their legal arguments. In an August 28 response letter she wrote that Section 309 (j) of the Communications Act explicitly states that the Commission’s authority to grant a license or permit for any spectrum that is auctioned shall expire March 9, 2023. “This provision is straightforward,” wrote Rosenworcel.

She added that any effort to license these airwaves with special temporary authority is also precluded because the Communications Act states that special temporary authority pursuant to Section 309(f) may be granted only if the grant is otherwise authorized by law, and that legal authority lapsed on March 9.

“If the Commission were to expend funds to continue to process the licenses won in Auction 108 notwithstanding the sunsetting of our authority to do so, it would put the agency staff at risk of criminal penalties for violating the Antideficiency Act,” wrote Rosenworcel.

The Antideficiency Act prohibits federal employees from spending government funds unless authorized by law.

It’s unclear why Senators Cruz and Thune are especially concerned that T-Mobile get access to more 2.5 GHz spectrum. Perhaps they’re concerned about rural areas in their states of Texas and South Dakota that could benefit from 5G coverage from T-Mobile.

Another option for them to help T-Mobile, and their states, would be to introduce a bill in the Senate to reauthorize the FCC’s auction authority.