Subcommittee advances bills to extend auction authority, boost Huawei rip & replace funds

This week the U.S. Communications and Technology Subcommittee marked up seven bipartisan bills related to telecommunications. The bills will now advance to Congress.

Of particular interest to the wireless community, the subcommittee considered a bill that would extend the Federal Communications Commission’s auction authority. It also advanced a bill that streamlines the process for making airwaves in the Lower 3 GHz available for commercial use, as well as a bill that provides an additional $3.4 billion for Huawei rip and replace programs.

Bill H.R. 7783, the Extending America’s Spectrum Auction Leadership Act, would extend the FCC’s auction authority by 18 months from its expiration date this fall. The goal is to ensure the FCC will be able to hold its planned Auction 108 in July without disruption and to successfully close out those auctions that have already occurred.

“Congress has never let the FCC’s spectrum authority lapse, and today’s action puts us one step closer to extending it once again,” wrote Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ).

Fierce asked Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) President Steven Berry if he thinks there’s a good chance the reauthorization will by passed before it expires. Berry said, “We remain optimistic and continue working with Congress to ensure that spectrum auction authority does not lapse. Absent action by Congress, the FCC’s authority to conduct new auctions or grant a license will expire on September 30, 2022, with exceptions for specific spectrum allocations identified in the Spectrum Pipeline Act (September 30, 2025) and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (November 15, 2028).”

Berry has previously noted that historically, Congress has renewed the auction authority for about 10-year periods. In this case, he said the 18-month extension is important to ensure that auction authority is not allowed to lapse, particularly while current spectrum auctions are ongoing or in the process of granting licenses.

He said Congress is not prevented from considering longer term extensions in the future.

Lower 3 GHz spectrum

The subcommittee also advanced H.R. 7624, the Spectrum Innovation Act, which would streamline the process for making airwaves in the Lower 3 GHz available for commercial use. And it establishes a process for the Secretary of Commerce to identify, with assistance from the Department of Defense and the FCC, at least 200 MHz in the Lower 3 GHz band for exclusive or shared use. The legislation also requires an auction of these airwaves within seven years.

Sharing in the lower portion of the 3 GHz band (specifically 3100-3550 MHz) is not a new ambition, and something that’s been investigated by the NTIA, alongside the DoD and other federal users.

Mid-band frequencies are a prime target for 5G services because they provide a sweet spot of coverage and capacity.

Huawei rip and replace

As part of H.R. 7624, the subcommittee addressed the shortfall in funds for Huawei rip and replace. It includes using spectrum auction proceeds to provide an additional $3.4 billion to make reimbursements under the Secure and Trusted Communications Reimbursement program, and it increased the amount that the FCC can spend on the program from $1.9 billion to $5.3 billion.

USF Funds

The subcommittee also advanced H.R. 5400, the Preventing Disruptions to Universal Service Funds Act. Without this extension, programs like Rural Broadband, Rural Health Care, Telemedicine, E-Rate and Lifeline could be at risk.

Four more telecom bills were also marked up by the subcommittee and sent to Congress, including:

H.R. 4990 and H.R. 5486, which provide NTIA with the resources to develop innovative spectrum management technologies, led in part by NTIA’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences.

H.R. 4275, the Ensuring Phone and Internet Access for SNAP Recipients Act, helps address the barriers faced by households that can’t afford phone and internet service related to the Affordable Connectivity Program and the Lifeline Program.

H.R. 7132, the Safe Connections Act, will help protect survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and other related crimes by requiring mobile providers to separate the survivor’s phone line from an account shared with their abuser, without financial penalties or other potential challenges upon request from a survivor.