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2027 FCC Authority Renewal

Cruz Draft Spectrum Bill Seeks 1,500 MHz for Reallocation, Nixes Projects Funding

Aides to Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are circulating a draft alternative to the House Commerce Committee-cleared Spectrum Auction Reauthorization Act (HR-3565) that directs NTIA to identify within two years at least 1,500 MHz of spectrum for nonfederal and shared use but doesn’t propose using proceeds from sales of those frequencies to pay for other telecom priorities. The draft language we obtained was circulating last week, but there has been chatter for months about Cruz’s plans for a proposal different from HR-3565. Cruz’s opposition to HR-3565 is one of several factors that’s stalled talks on a compromise spectrum legislative package throughout 2023 (see 2308100058). Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., backs HR-3565.

Cruz’s Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2023 would reinstate the FCC’s general spectrum auction authority through Sept. 30, 2027, while its mandate to sell spectrum NTIA identifies as part of the measure would expire eight years after its enactment, the draft said. The FCC’s remit has remained lapsed since early March, when Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., opposed an attempted short-term renewal because of concerns it could allow congressional action to authorize a sale of 3.1-3.45 GHz spectrum before DOD completed a study of the effects of commercial 5G use of the band on incumbent military systems (see 2303090074). HR-3565 proposes renewing the FCC’s authority through Sept. 30, 2026.

The draft doesn’t specifically mandate sales of lower 3 GHz frequency, which lobbyists said is a nod to continued uncertainty about whether Congress will be able to allow 5G services on the band amid DOD’s delay in transmitting its report on the band to Capitol Hill (see 2311010001). The proposal would require NTIA to identify at least 750 MHz “for full-power commercial licensed use, subject to flexible-use service rules, at power levels not less than those established for” the repurposed 3.45-3.55 GHz band. The measure requires the FCC to auction 250 MHz within two years of NTIA identification, with the other two 250 MHz tranches for sale in succeeding two-year cycles. The draft would require the FCC to make at least an additional 250 MHz available for either licensed or unlicensed use.

Cruz’s legislation maintains an existing requirement that the FCC not conclude a spectrum auction if total sales proceeds are less than 110% of the total estimated relocation or sharing costs for incumbents. It otherwise doesn’t propose any allocation of new auction revenue, in contrast to HR-3565’s proposal to use up to $14.8 billion in future auction proceeds for NG-911 and up to $3.08 billion to pay back a loan to fully fund the FCC’s Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program. Some Senate Republicans have cited concerns about HR-3565’s spending priorities, particularly a proposal to allocate up to $5 billion for middle-mile projects previously included in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (see 2306120058).

Aides to Cruz and Senate Commerce didn’t comment.