U.S. Capitol

Editor’s Note by Jim Smith:  Guest Commentator Steve Perry, a veteran Congressional expert and Managing Principal of Grayling, offers his perspective on upcoming legislative efforts to free additional spectrum for broadband deployment.

Nowhere is the opportunity greater to promote broadband deployment than in the wireless sector.  As our society increasingly goes mobile, devices that were once limited to voice have become major conduits for access to broadband services.  The operators themselves have done so much to deliver on this promise by investing in facilities that can extend broadband footprints.  What once was almost strictly an urban technology has quickly proliferated into suburban and increasingly rural communities bringing with it rapid speeds and feature-rich content.

While some of this growth has come through unlicensed WiFi services, it is equally clear that consumers like the “always on” connectivity of their licensed services, as well.  The promise of the next generation of advanced wireless services, the so-called 5G services, is fast becoming reality as companies plan for this new deployment.  Demand for spectrum has pushed carriers to expand their spectrum holdings whether through auction, or secondary market transactions to meet 5G timetables.  The time has come for another allocation of spectrum for these new, exciting services to replenish the spectrum pipeline following the upcoming broadcast incentive auction.  And Congress is going to be leading the way.

Sometime later this fall, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will take the first steps towards freeing up additional spectrum by putting together legislation to identify and authorize the FCC to auction specific blocks of spectrum.  Given the time it will take to identify that spectrum, propose ways to clear it, auction it, and have the auction winner place that spectrum into use is likely an 8-10 year proposition, at a minimum.  Given the demand we can project, it’s already past time that we initiated this important next step.

Along with the effort to identify and auction spectrum, there are some other actions Congress will likely consider to hasten the deployment of these new services.  For example, current government policy often erects barriers to the swift deployment of wireless infrastructure that underpins licensed services.  Tower siting and permitting delays are just two of the many obstacles that wireless infrastructure companies face.  These barriers likely will be addressed in the same legislation along with incentives for deploying in rural areas.  Which non-auction wireless provisions will be included in that legislation is not yet clear, but this will be a major wireless initiative that holds the potential to activate the economic engines of the commercial wireless industry for many years to come.

*The views expressed are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of DWT or its clients.