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By Lydia Beyoud
March 1 — Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee leaders have made several changes to a closely watched spectrum bill in advance of a March 3 markup, including language to speed up federal agency reporting on how to free up more government-held spectrum for private use, according to a managers' amendment obtained by Bloomberg BNA.
The manager's amendment to committee chairman John Thune's MOBILE Now Act (S. 2555) would change from three years to 18 months the period for the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to report on the feasibility of licensed and unlicensed private sector use of airwaves in the 3.1 gigahertz (GHz) to 3.5 GHz band and the 3.7 GHz to 4.2 GHz band.
The bill by Thune (R-S.D.) aims to bring an additional 255 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum into the so-called spectrum pipeline for use by the mobile wireless industry or for sharing between federal users and the private sector.
If approved, the accelerated timeline would likely benefit much of the mobile wireless industry, though certain incumbent satellite users might look on the provision less favorably, a telecom industry lobbyist told Bloomberg BNA on background.
The amendment would add text to the bill to ensure the NTIA must consider spectrum bands other than bands currently used in a meaningful way by mobile or fixed wireless broadband operations on the day before the date of enactment, along with several other frequencies already listed in the bill text. The new provision would prevent the agency from whittling away at the 255 MHz goal by including spectrum already in use by mobile operations in any feasibility studies, the industry source said.
Other technical changes were made throughout the bill, under the manager's amendment.
Further changes to amendments to the bill (S. 2555) are still possible before the committee markup. With the backing of ranking member Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the committee is expected to approve the measure.
Committee members Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) are expected to offer an amendment to create a national “unlicensed spectrum policy” and provisions that would require the FCC to consider unlicensed spectrum sufficient to meet future demand as part of its rulemakings.
Among its provisions, the amendment would require the FCC and NTIA to recommend changes to the Spectrum Relocation Fund to help federal agencies address costs incurred to share some of their spectrum with unlicensed users. It would also require the FCC to file a report within a year of enactment on a plan to expand unlicensed spectrum allocation.
The amendment toned down some of the requirements for demarcating spectrum bands for unlicensed use from previous amendment drafts, the industry source said. The final amendment would provide the FCC with significantly more “wiggle room” to provide for unlicensed airwaves as part of its proceedings, but only when feasible to do so without causing interference, the source said.
The amendment would also substitute for Schatz's “Promoting Unlicensed Spectrum Act of 2015” (S. 2278), issued at the time of the first MOBILE Now draft.
The changes to the bill strike a good balance between new allocations of licensed and unlicensed spectrum, particularly with the inclusion of Schatz's amendment to the manager's package, said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute.
The overall bill is now “very balanced and positive for expanding both unlicensed and sharing of underutilized federal bands in the future,” Calabrese said via e-mail.
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