Spectrum auctions get real (and a little weird) during House hearing

Congressman Billy Long, R-Missouri, turned on his auctioneer’s voice during Wednesday’s three-hour hearing on spectrum policy to liven up the debate on how to steer the nation’s spectrum policy into the future.

Long had a 31-year career as an auctioneer before coming to Congress in 2011, so “I know a little about auctions and it is the place that things happen. It’s transparent, fair and all equal to everyone. Everyone’s free to bid,” he said after conducting a rapid-fire mock 2.5 GHz auction while seated in the hearing room.

His comments came during the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology’s inquiry on “5G and Beyond: Exploring the Next Wireless Frontier.”

The hearing covered a range of spectrum topics, including the FCC’s authority to conduct spectrum auctions. (At about the 1:57 mark, Congressman Long puts his auctioneer’s hat on.)

The FCC’s auction authority, which has been extended several times since originally granted in 1993, is set to expire on September 30, 2022. If Congress fails to act, the FCC won’t have the authority to conduct spectrum auctions. The next auction due to start is for 2.5 GHz, set for July.

Auctioning spectrum benefits the American taxpayers and the federal government, and it has the potential to raise significant funds for the U.S. Treasury. It’s important that the FCC’s authority to conduct auctions be extended, Long said.

Long directed his first question to Mary Brown, senior director, Government Affairs at Cisco Systems.

The 3 GHz is the most important spectrum band for 5G. not just in the U.S., but in the world, because it can be put to work immediately, Brown said. One of the things the Spectrum Innovation Act does well is it gives a timeline to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and FCC to make up their minds, but with flexibility about how they do it. “Congress is on the right track there,” she said.

Asked about spectrum above 95 GHz, Jayne Stancavage of Intel said it’s about the capabilities that are enabled. In 4G, it was all about enabling human-centric things on the phone. “With 5G, we added ultra-reliable low latency computing,” as well as massive machine communication or IoT, she said.

“Those extra capabilities are enabling businesses to get those same types of benefits,” she said. “Now as we move into 6G, there is research and development going on for some of those that would require very, very large bandwidths” and very short range, which would be consistent with those super-high bands above 95 GHz. Things like very high accuracy positioning and sensor uses are some of the applications.

Throughout the hearing, various spectrum bands came up, but the lower 3 GHz and the 7 GHz were frequently mentioned as potential bands in the pipeline for spectrum. Participants generally gave high praise to the NTIA and FCC for their recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on spectrum policies.

The desire is to have NTIA and the FCC lead the spectrum coordination efforts, said CTIA SVP of Regulatory Affairs Scott Bergmann said. “We do think it’s critical that all agencies appreciate and recognize the goals” of the national spectrum strategy, he said.

Of course, hearing participants said they want to avoid another fiasco like the one experienced with the C-band, where the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and airlines raised red flags at the 11th hour (or 13th hour, as Bergmann noted), about the viability of 5G operating near radio altimeters. That came after the FCC decided it was safe to auction off the C-band spectrum for 5G, by which it raised more than $80 billion, mostly from wireless carriers.

Other examples include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) blaming the 24 GHz 5G allocation for potentially messing up weather forecasts and the Department of Defense (DoD) and GPS users upset about Ligado Networks’ L-band rollout.