capitol-unlicensed search-1High-stakes spectrum lobbying gears up

Last year, we reported on the proposed Mobile Now Act, the darling of U.S. Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Bill Nelson (D-FL), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce Committee, respectively. The bill aims to encourage broadband deployment. At that time, we noted that the Act had a chance of being one of the few non-routine pieces of legislation to be approved in the last Congress. While it ultimately died, the Act has been teed up again by the Senate Commerce Committee, and we think that it has a good chance of being passed this year.

The current version is substantially the same as last year’s, with provisions to open more federal spectrum to both licensed and unlicensed commercial users in various frequency bands. As we highlighted last year, the legislation notably addresses:

  • Making up to 500 MHz of spectrum available for wireless broadband;
  • Considering permitting mobile or fixed wireless operations on mmWave federal spectrum;
  • Opening 3100-3550 and 3700-4200 MHz for shared (federal and non-federal) use; and
  • Providing for unlicensed use of newly formed guard bands.

Additional provisions to facilitate broadband deployment include improving access to easements, rights of way and leases on federal property, and providing “relocation incentives” to pay federal users to move to different frequency bands.

The cellular industry and others looking to make big plays in the Internet of Things will be pushing this legislation along.

As with most legislation this year, there is uncertainty as to the impact of the new administration on the Hill’s agenda. While Congressional Republicans are certain that they will be able to adopt much more legislation with a Republican in the White House, it is unclear what type of support this type of legislation will receive. For one, the legislation would require a good deal of work by a host of federal offices and agencies, including the Departments of Commerce and Transportation, the Federal Communications Commission, the Office of Management and Budget, and even the Government Accountability Office. And, it would require new regulations. Since this work is at odds with the President’s agenda of freezing new regulations, reducing government spending and cutting the federal workforce, the ultimate fate of the legislation, even if adopted, is not clear.