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Disagreement on 3.1-3.45 GHz

House Commerce Advances Spectrum Coordination Act, Other Bills

The House Commerce Committee voted 49-0 Thursday to advance the Spectrum Coordination Act (HR-1341), one of several bills lobbyists think are likely to become a part of a spectrum policy legislative package lawmakers hope to enact later this year. Congressional leaders are trying to temporarily restore the FCC’s lapsed spectrum auction authority in hopes of giving negotiators more time to reach a deal (see 2303220077). Some top military officials, meanwhile, are breaking ranks with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in the debate over repurposing parts of the 3.1-3.45 GHz band for commercial use, which has been a major hurdle in reaching a legislative compromise.

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Spectrum is at the center of all modern wireless” technologies, so the “timely coordination between the FCC and NTIA is critical to ensure spectrum is being used” effectively, said HR-1341 lead sponsor Rep. Troy Balderson, R-Ohio, during House Commerce’s markup. The measure would require the FCC and NTIA to update their memorandum of understanding for handling spectrum allocations at least once every four years. Lawmakers included similar MOU language in the Spectrum Auction Reauthorization Act proposal they failed to attach in December to the FY 2023 omnibus appropriations measure (see 2212190069).

The other eight communications and tech bills House Commerce unanimously advanced Thursday and Friday included the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences Codification Act (HR-1343), which would provide statutory authority for ITS’ role in managing NTIA’s telecom and spectrum technology programs. Also on the docket: the 9-8-8 Lifeline Cybersecurity Responsibility Act (HR-498), Open Radio Access Networks Outreach Act (HR-1340), NTIA Policy and Cybersecurity Coordination Act (HR-1345), Information and Communication Technology Strategy Act (HR-1354), American Cybersecurity Literacy Act (HR-1360), Communications Security Act (HR-1370) and Promoting U.S. Wireless Leadership Act (HR-1377). The panel unanimously approved the Satellite and Telecommunications Streamlining Act (HR-1338), Secure Space Act (HR-675), Launch Communications Act (HR-682), Precision Agriculture Satellite Connectivity Act (HR-1339) and Advanced, Local Emergency Response Telecommunications Parity Act (HR-1353) earlier Thursday (see 2303230077).

The head of the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Gen. Glen VanHerck, told Senate Armed Services Committee members Thursday he’s “concerned about the potential national security impacts of auctioning or selling off” the 3.1-3.45 GHz band. Panel member Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., objects to a House-passed bill to extend the FCC’s spectrum auction authority through May 19 (HR-1108) because he’s concerned that time frame would make it possible for Congress to move on a spectrum package before DOD completes a study on relocating its systems off the frequency (see 2303090074). Rounds is pressing for passage of a bill to renew the mandate through Sept. 30 (S-650).

It’s my assessment there will be impacts … to our domain awareness capabilities” if the federal government repurposes parts of the 3.1-3.45 GHz band that host DOD incumbent systems, VanHerck said in response to a question from Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I. “There are multiple platforms” that repurposing the band would affect, including “maritime homeland defense platforms, airborne early warning platforms, ground-based early warning platforms that enable me to provide threat warning, attack assessment” and defending “from potentially airborne assets.”

VanHerck acknowledged he’s not directly participating in DOD’s analysis but “would welcome the opportunity to be personally involved.” Rounds believes “a legitimate study” of the 3.1-3.45 GHz band would have “some participation by” Northern Command “since this is part of the spectrum they rely on.” There’s “a very serious concern with the loss of any part of that spectrum,” Rounds said.

DOD Joint Staff more directly disagreed earlier this month with Austin signing on to a letter with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo endorsing the 3.1-3.45 GHz language in the scuttled December proposal ahead of the FCC authority’s expiration earlier this month (see 2303080081). The letter “does not incorporate the concerns and recommendations” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley raised in a Feb. 25 memo to Austin, said Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. James Mingus in a March 3 memo we obtained. Milley “recommended revising” the letter “to include the appeals process” DOD and the Commerce Department agreed to in December for resolving any objections to the federal government’s recommendation for the 3.1-3.45 GHz band.