The authoritative news source for communications regulation

U.S. Has Weak Hand to Play as WRC Starts, Pai and Carr Say

With the World Radiocommunication Conference starting Monday in Dubai, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr and former Chairman Ajit Pai questioned how well the U.S. is positioned to score wins. They spoke during an American Enterprise Institute webinar Friday. Pai was chairman during the previous WRC four years ago.

Start A Trial

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is expected to be in Dubai for the start of the conference, leading an FCC team of about a dozen staffers, industry and agency officials confirmed. Commissioner Anna Gomez plans to attend the conference's opening sessions, her office said.

Decisions at the WRC are critical to harmonization of bands, which is important for the growth of technology and economies of scale, Pai said. The U.S. entered the 2019 WRC “with a very concrete set of bands that we wanted to advance the ball in, and we were largely successful in that,” he said.

When you limp” into the WRC “with a strategy that really doesn’t identify any particular goals or bands or time frames, you’re essentially throwing the decision-making responsibility to other countries like China,” Pai added.

The FCC cleared more than 6,000 MHz of spectrum for licensed use under Pai’s leadership, Carr said. The Biden administration’s national spectrum strategy “doesn’t free up … even a single MHz of spectrum,” but only proposes bands for further study, he said. “That’s a bad sign for America’s leadership” headed into the WRC, he said.

China is supporting the addition of almost 1,500 MHz for 5G at the WRC, Carr said. The U.S. needs to look for a win of some kind at the conference, he said. “Right now we’re falling behind other countries,” he said: “It’s an urgent moment.”

Rosenworcel deflected questions during a news conference last week about whether the federal government’s lack of clear direction on major spectrum policy issues, including Congress’ monthslong stall on reinstating the FCC’s auction authority (see 2311010001), has damaged U.S. standing heading into WRC.

We will hash these issues out with our global colleagues who work on spectrum policy” during the conference, Rosenworcel told reporters. It’s “absolutely important that Congress restore the FCC’s spectrum auction authority. We had it for three decades,” during which “we have held more than 100 auctions and raised more than $233 billion for the U.S. Treasury. It’s a good deal, and we want Congress to bring it back.”

The unfortunate thing about the so-called national spectrum strategy is that it’s missing spectrum, which is kind of a critical input,” Pai said.

Carr warned that the strategy (see 2311130048) minimizes the FCC's role in spectrum oversight. “We have to get back to a point where the FCC itself, and the chair of the FCC, is seen as leading the country on spectrum and gets proper deference from other agencies and the White House,” he said. Many industry groups applauded the release of the strategy, he said: “I think that sends all the wrong signals and I understand it’s difficult to sort of tell the truth to the government.”

Work on a band can’t stop whenever a federal agency raises an objection, Pai said. “That essentially dooms any given spectrum band to purgatory for the time being and that’s not a recipe for success for wireless innovation,” he said. “I have the gray hair … to show for the battles that we waged” on spectrum, he said.

Carr also called on the FCC to issue the licenses that T-Mobile and others won in the 2.5 GHz auction last year (see 2306220045). “We should be issuing those licenses immediately,” he said.

The Chairwoman will lead the FCC’s team and support the State Department with policy and technical expertise," an FCC spokesperson emailed Friday. “The FCC team is focused on furthering U.S. leadership in spectrum policy for 5G, 6G, and beyond; protecting and promoting the US space economy; and adopting a balanced and forward-looking future agenda for WRC-27,” added the spokesperson, who declined to respond directly to the two Republicans' comments.