Congress must authorize FCC to auction more spectrum to 5G providers
The United States’ airwaves are under siege, and it’s urgent that we act now to secure our nation’s future.
Radio waves are a crucial natural resource that powers our wireless networks, delivering high-speed services to keep American consumers connected. With the demand for 5G innovation increasing, our wireless networks need more capacity through the new licensed spectrum.
Congress determines how much spectrum the Federal Communications Commission can auction off to wireless providers by giving the agency auctioning authority. However, for the first time in the last 30 years, Congress has failed to extend the FCC’s spectrum auction authority, rendering the organization unable to expand commercial spectrum access.
This was primarily because of the standoff between the Department of Defense and wireless providers over spectrum sharing, and that’s bad news for American innovation and cyber security.
Every moment of delay puts us at a disadvantage against China’s telecommunications industry, and we cannot afford to fall behind.
The restriction on the amount of spectrum the FCC can auction hampers our ability in leading and developing new wireless technologies. By limiting spectrum availability, we reduce the capacity and speed of our networks, making them less efficient and more vulnerable to cyberattacks. This vulnerability could lead to a disruption of critical infrastructure, such as our energy grid or financial systems, causing harm to our national security and economy.
The FCC has been trying to increase spectrum access for years but has faced opposition from other agencies that would restrict commercial access. In March 2021, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr laid out a plan to expand spectrum use and made a public statement arguing that the organization should auction off the “Lower 3 GHz band and several additional spectrum bands” beyond 2022.
Wireless carriers are interested in the Lower 3 GHz band radio frequency range because it provides a good balance between coverage and capacity, perfect for supporting 5G networks. In his statement, Carr argued that increasing commercial users’ access to more spectrum like this is essential to the development of 5G technology, which has the potential to revolutionize industries from transportation to healthcare.
If the government auctions off these frequency bands, it can increase revenue and help bring advanced wireless services to consumers.
As a significant user of the radio spectrum, the Department of Defense has opposed the FCC auctioning off more licensed spectrum for commercial use because of concerns about interference with the military. The military relies on radio frequencies for various applications, including radar operations and communications systems.
The Defense Department has argued that commercial use of the radio spectrum could interfere with these critical functions, potentially putting national security at risk. Alternatively, it has advocated for shared use of the spectrum, in which commercial users must coordinate with the military to avoid interference.
Yet, spectrum sharing is complex to implement and can reduce efficiency in the spectrum’s use. The incumbent spectrum users, such as broadcasters, satellite operators and government agencies, may be reluctant to share their spectrum with wireless providers. As the demand for wireless services continues to grow, striking the right balance between commercial and government use of the radio spectrum will be critical to ensuring national security and economic growth.
The United States has always been a forerunner in 5G innovation, which has greatly boosted the nation’s economy. CTIA, the voice of America’s wireless industry, estimates the industry “enables 4.5 million jobs and contributes roughly $825 billion each year to the American economy.” However, as China continues to make strides in 5G technology, the United States must take action to ensure it remains competitive in this critical area.
Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE taking the lead in developing 5G technology raises concerns about the security implications of relying on Chinese equipment and infrastructure. These companies have close ties to the Chinese government and have facilitated espionage and cyberattacks against U.S. interests.
As the race to deploy 5G networks speeds up, it will be critical for the United States to remain competitive to protect national security interests.
The United States cannot afford to fall behind in the race for 5G dominance. By passing a law allowing the FCC to auction off more spectrum, Congress can help ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of 5G technology and our domestic telecommunications companies remain competitive with China and other countries making significant investments in 5G infrastructure.
Tahmineh Dehbozorgi is an innovation fellow at Young Voices. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.