Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Broadband and Wireless Legislation

In a brief executive session hearing on February 3, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation considered the MOBILE NOW Act (S.2555) and heard input from Senators on the committee.

That acronym stands for “Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless,” and includes a range of proposals and priorities for wireless spectrum and communications. These include making 500 MHz of federal spectrum available for private sector use by 2020, speeding up 5G infrastructure, directives to the federal government to assess spectrum allocation for licensed and unlicensed use in the GHz band as well as create an online inventor of federal government property assets for possible use in private-sector broadband deployment, and encouraging the “dig once” policy for federal agencies. The “dig once,” policy is the idea that broadband wires should be laid at the same time as other below-ground infrastructure work (such as highway construction).

In an opening statement, the ranking member of the committee Senator Bill Nelson said:

“U.S. spectrum policy must strike a balance between responding to consumers insatiable demand for wireless communications and ensuring that the federal government continues to have access to enough spectrum to meet its present and its future spectrum needs, particularly with respect to national and homeland security, and i think the bill before us strikes that balance. I also agree with the chairman that the mobile now act will further american wireless technology leadership by expanding the nation’s spectrum frontiers, and by helping speed deployment of wireless broadband networks this bill positions the nation to spearhead the 5G wireless technology revolution.”

Later in the hearing, Senator Dean Heller from Nevada said, “Spectrum doesn’t do us very much good, if wireless companies can’t get their applications approved by these agencies,” when mentioning a tourist community in rural Nevada which had a two-year delay in getting service due to bureaucratic delays (and which the senator said is still not fully connected).

Senator Cory Gardner from Colorado brought up the issue of “spectrum crunch,” which refers to the lack of sufficient wireless spectrum needed to support the growing number of consumer devices as well as various government and private sector radio frequency use. Gardner asserted that the legislation being considered would go a long way towards addressing the challenges posed by spectrum crunch.

Senator Tom Udall from New Mexico praised the committee for including his amendment establishing a “Spectrum Challenge Prize,” which would create a competition to innovate new spectrum solutions, with an award grant of up to $5 million (this competition would be under the authority of the Department of Commerce). Udall said, “a breakthrough in this area could lead to enormous benefits for our economy and national security.”

The legislation was adopted and reported the legislation as modified with no dissent; 12 amendments deemed non-controversial were added, and Senator Jerry Moran put foward and then withdrew one floor amendment. After the legislation was adopted, ranking member Senator Bill Nelson asked, “Are we the only committee, besides the highway bill, that works things out together?”

A video of the hearing, as well as links to the text of the MOBILE NOW Act, is available at: Hearing Video Cast

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