Recently, the Federal Communications Commission’s first-ever Rural Tribal Priority Window (TPW) came to a close. This special spectrum application window allowed for rural tribal nations to apply for valuable Educational Broadband Service (EBS) frequencies over their lands that had never been licensed. The agency received applications for spectrum on 266 separate tribal lands; 418 applications and amendments were filed in all. The decision to auction unassigned EBS was made in a July 2019 FCC rulemaking regarding EBS. But is auctioning the remaining EBS spectrum the right decision?
Much of the focus in policy circles has been on how to expand broadband access to those Americans without it. This is a worthy goal, but we should not lose sight of the magnitude of the other part of the digital divide: the adoption gap. FCC data shows about 35% or approximately 114 million Americans do not subscribe to broadband service at their homes. Cost is often cited as the leading factor for why Americans do not subscribe to broadband even when it is offered. Clearly, we need a strategy to address this gap, too.
Current law requires that spectrum auction proceeds are automatically deposited in the US Treasury, barring a few exceptions. Legislation would be required to direct C-Band auction proceeds to other causes, such as a transition fund or incentive payments to satellite operators. The Senate Commerce Committee approved a bill called the 5G Spectrum Act, which would direct at least 50% of C-Band auction proceeds to the Treasury and 10% to rural broadband.
In the race to 5G, American wireless companies are sorely lacking one essential ingredient: mid-band spectrum. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the FCC will pursue a public auction of a portion of the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz spectrum band – also known as the C-Band – by the end of 2020. Senate Commerce Committee approved S. 2881, C-Band legislation that would modify the automatic Treasury deposit.