Wicker, Schatz Introduce SPECTRUM NOW Act

Bipartisan, Bicameral Proposal Would Provide Support for More Efficient Use of Wireless Spectrum

June 6, 2018

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, today introduced S. 3010, “The Supplementing the Pipeline for Efficient Control of The Resources for Users Making New Opportunities for Wireless (SPECTRUM NOW) Act.” The legislation would help provide the necessary support for federal spectrum users to research innovative ways to increase their spectrum-use efficiency and to find ways to repurpose spectrum for commercial use.

“The ultimate success of next generation communications networks will depend on the United States using finite wireless spectrum more efficiently,” Wicker said. “It is important for Congress to consider ways to support innovation in this crucial sector and to free up existing resources accordingly.”

“As demand for licensed and unlicensed spectrum continues to grow, we need to find new ways to maximize our country’s spectrum resources,” said Schatz. “By freeing up more licensed spectrum, we can give innovators a strong foundation for building new technologies and help grow an industry that fuels our national economy.”

The SPECTRUM NOW Act addresses concerns with the Spectrum Relocation Fund (SRF), which was created by Congress in 2004 to increase spectrum-use efficiency by federal users and to find more spectrum for commercial use. In 2015, the Spectrum Pipeline Act broadened the scope of eligible expenses that could be supported by the SRF and authorized the use of $500 million in SRF monies for research and related activities to explore repurposing spectrum for commercial use. There is concern that the $500 million provided in the Spectrum Pipeline Act is running out and there will not be enough money to conduct comprehensive spectrum research in the future to further improve spectrum-use efficiency and drive U.S. leadership in the digital economy.

The new legislation would allow the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in consultation with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), to use existing SRF funding (approximately $8 billion) to support research-related activities that examine the feasibility of federal spectrum users relocating or sharing spectrum with non-federal users as long as those monies are not already obligated to support federal agencies.

The bill also establishes that any SRF expenditures for research can only occur if:

  1. A research and development (R&D) plan by the incumbent federal spectrum user to explore relocating of sharing spectrum has been submitted and approved by the Technical Panel, which was established by Congress and is composed of three members representing the NTIA, OMB, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC);
  2. As of the date of certification to Congress by NTIA and OMB that the R&D plan is approved, Spectrum Pipeline Act funds are insufficient to support that R&D plan; and
  3. R&D payments will leave sufficient amounts in the SRF to complete ongoing transition plans from previous auctions.

Representatives Doris Matsui, D-Calif., and Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., introduced the House companion to the SPECTRUM NOW Act. Tom Udall, D-N.M., joined Wicker and Schatz as an original cosponsor of the legislation.

Read the full text of the legislation here.