The next-generation of wireless technologies – known as 5G – is here. Not only is it expected to offer network speeds that are up to 100 times faster than 4G LTE and reduce latency to nearly zero, it will allow networks to handle 100 times the number of connected devices, revolutionizing business and consumer connectivity and enabling the “Internet of Things.” Leading policymakers – federal regulators and legislators – are making it a top priority to ensure that the wireless industry has the tools it needs to maintain U.S. leadership in commercial 5G deployments. This blog provides monthly updates on FCC actions and Congressional efforts to win the race to 5G.
Regulatory Actions and Initiatives
- The FCC adopted a framework for reallocating mid-band spectrum that is now principally used for satellite downlink service – delivering content to broadcasters, cable companies, and others – for 5G wireless services.
- On February 28, 2020, the FCC adopted an Order that reallocates the 3.7-3.98 GHz portion of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band (“C-band”) for 5G wireless services. Under the adopted framework, the lower 280 megahertz of the C-band will be cleared and auctioned, and incumbent satellite operators will be repacked in the upper 200 megahertz of the band, with 20 megahertz reserved as a guard band. Incumbent satellite operators will be required to clear the lower 280 megahertz by September 2025, but could also voluntarily clear the spectrum on an accelerated basis in two phases in return for accelerated relocation payments totaling $9.7 billion. Reasonable relocation costs – estimated by the FCC to be between $3.3 billion to $5.2 billion – will also be reimbursed by bidders who win spectrum in the upcoming C-band auction, which is scheduled to start on December 8, 2020. Concurrently with the Order, the FCC released a Public Notice seeking comment on the procedures that will be used for the C-band auction. Comments and reply comments on the auction procedures are due May 1 and May 15, respectively. The FCC also released a Public Notice announcing that it has made technical guides available for the C-band auction on its Auction 107 website.
- The FCC established procedures for its next auction of mid-band spectrum, which is scheduled to commence on June 25, 2020.
- On February 28, 2020, the FCC adopted a Public Notice that establishes final procedures for the auction of Priority Access Licenses in the 3550-3650 MHz (“3.5 GHz”) band. Abandoning its previous proposal to allow bids on a Cellular Market Area-level and county-level basis, the FCC will conduct the auction on a county-level basis only, generally following its standard ascending clock auction procedures. Applications to participate in the auction are due at 6:00 pm ET on April 9, 2020. The FCC also released a Public Notice announcing the availability of a Technical Guide on its Auction 105 website that provides examples and serves as a supplement to its 3.5 GHz auction bidding procedures.
- The FCC announced the start date for assignment phase bidding in its third millimeter wave spectrum auction (Auction 103) for 5G services.
- On February 5, 2020, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing that assignment phase bidding, in which winning bidders in the clock phase of Auction 103 may bid on specific frequency blocks, would begin on February 18, 2020. Bidding in the assignment phase was completed on March 5, 2020. Gross proceeds raised in Auction 103 after the assignment phase total approximately $7.57 billion. The FCC will soon release a Public Notice to announce the close of the auction and provide details and deadlines for post-auction procedures.
- The FCC released its FY 2021 Budget Estimate with proposals to extend the agency’s spectrum auction authority and to make additional mid-band spectrum in the 1675-1680 MHz band available for commercial services.
- On February 10, 2020, the FCC presented its fiscal year 2021 budget request to Congress. Among other things, the budget includes a proposal to auction or assign the 1675-1680 MHz band, subject to sharing with federal weather satellites, for commercial services, which it anticipates will raise $355 million, and a proposal that the FCC be given the authority to impose license fees on un-auctioned spectrum, something that has been proposed often in the past. In the same week, the President’s FY 2021 Budget was released, which includes the FCC’s proposals as well as a proposal to extend the Commission’s auction authority to 2030 to cover additional spectrum that may be reallocated from federal operations, an estimate that an auction of C-band spectrum will yield $18 billion in auction proceeds, and a statement that $1 billion in net auction proceeds can be expected through 2030.
- A bill was introduced in the Senate that would make the security of U.S. 5G networks a negotiating objective of the Nation’s trade policy.
- On March 5, 2020, Senators Thune, Stabenow, Fischer, and Warner introduced the Network Security Trade Act. The bill would amend the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 to include as a trade negotiating objective that the U.S. “ensure that the equipment and technology that create the global communications infrastructure are not compromised.” To do so, trade negotiators would be required to address barriers to the security of communications networks and supply chains as well as unfair trade practices of foreign suppliers of communications equipment.
- The Senate held a hearing to discuss the security and integrity of 5G networks.
- On March 4, 2020, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing to examine ways to secure 5G networks from national security threats. White House officials have also reported that the White House will host a 5G Summit on April 1, 2020 with various domestic- and foreign-based telecommunications and technology companies to discuss the security of telecommunications equipment in the 5G ecosystem.
- The Senate unanimously passed a bill that requires the federal government to safeguard the security of 5G networks and infrastructure.
- The House held a hearing to discuss the resiliency of communications networks.
- On February 27, 2020, the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing to discuss the strength of communications networks during emergencies and disasters. Witnesses at the hearing discussed how the RESILIENT Networks Act, if enacted, could help improve 5G network resiliency by requiring the FCC, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, to assess and respond to challenges associated with using 5G wireless networks during times of crisis.
- A bill was introduced in the Senate to address the need for a trained telecommunications workforce to meet the demands of 5G.
- On February 27, 2020, Senator Thune and members of the Senate Commerce Committee introduced the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act. The bill would require the Department of Labor, in consultation with the FCC, to establish an interagency working group that would provide recommendations to Congress on the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry. It would also require the Department of Labor, in consultation with the FCC, to issue guidance to States on how to use federal resources to address workforce needs and to promote and improve recruitment in workforce development programs. The bill would further direct the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study to determine the number of skilled telecommunications workers needed to build and maintain broadband infrastructure in rural areas and the 5G wireless infrastructure needed for 5G wireless technology.
- A bill was introduced in the Senate that would allocate between $2 billion and $4 billion of C-band auction proceeds for a Homework Gap Trust Fund.
- On February 27, 2020, Senator Van Hollen introduced the Homework Gap Trust Fund Act. If enacted, the bill would require the FCC to use revenues from the upcoming C-band auction to administer the Homework Gap Trust Fund. The Fund would be used to ensure that all students – in both urban and rural communities – have access to broadband internet access services at home. In addition to wireless devices, the funds could be used to purchase wireless hot spots.
- The Senate unanimously passed a bill that would prevent equipment that could comprise national security from being deployed in U.S. 5G networks.
- On February 27, 2020, the Senate passed the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act, which will require the FCC to identify communications equipment or services that can pose a risk to national security and prevent the use of federal funds to obtain such equipment or services. The bill also provides $1 billion in funding to help rural communications providers replace such equipment with equipment from trusted providers. The bill was presented to the President on March 3, 2020.