FCC chief wants Congress to prevent spectrum auction by changing law

fcc ajit pai t band spectrum auction congress telecoms
Ryan is an editor at TechForge Media with over a decade of experience covering the latest technology and interviewing leading industry figures. He can often be sighted at tech conferences with a strong coffee in one hand and a laptop in the other. If it's geeky, he’s probably into it. Find him on Twitter: @Gadget_Ry

FCC chairman Ajit Pai has called on Congress to change a law which mandates a spectrum auction that he believes is against America’s interests.

“An FCC auction of the T-band is a bad idea. But as of today, the law mandates that we do it,” Pai said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that Commission resources must be dedicated to laying the groundwork for an auction that will likely fail.”

The FCC is currently legally-obliged to auction off space in the 470-512MHz spectrum before February 22nd, 2021. Incumbents will be required to move off the spectrum band no later than two years after.

So what’s the issue? Incumbents being emergency services is the main one.

Emergency services are supposed to be moving to a new Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN), but those plans are behind where they were expected to be. Vital public services which use T-band may struggle to find an alternative.

FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told Congress in March: “This auction will jeopardize the communications of police and fire officials in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and Miami.”

The original estimate for the T-band auction was that it would bring in around $10 billion and easily help the incumbents transition over to a new band. Opponents now believe the auction won’t raise that much as telcos are no longer desperate for spectrum thanks to other auctions.

When the Government Accountability Office investigated the issue last year, the agency recommended that Congress at least considers “allowing public safety organizations to keep using the T-Band.”

Despite the opposition of pretty much everyone, it currently seems like the T-band auction will go ahead – causing potentially severe issues for public safety while raising less money than initially expected.

(Image Credit: Ajit Pai by Gage Skidmore under CC BY-SA 2.0 license)

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