Deal to Attach Spectrum Innovation Act to Omnibus is Dead, Aides Confirm
An objection from Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., appears to have all but killed a deal telecom-focused congressional leaders struck over the weekend to attach modified language from the Senate version of the Spectrum Innovation Act (S-4117) to a planned FY 2023 appropriations omnibus package, several congressional aides and communications industry lobbyists told us Monday. Another short-term renewal of the FCC’s auction authority is, however, still expected to be in the package, lobbyists said. Hill leaders were expected to release the omnibus’ text Monday, but it wasn’t available that afternoon.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, three groups supporting FCC nominee Gigi Sohn again pressed the Senate to confirm the long-stalled nominee, though time is all but up for action during this Congress (see 2212090058). A group of low-power TV broadcasters, meanwhile, objected to Senate Commerce Committee leaders’ bid to pass the NAB-backed Low Power Protection Act (S-3405) by unanimous consent. Both houses of Congress are expected to complete planned business for the 117th Congress before Friday.
The deal that Senate Commerce Chair Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., ranking member Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and other leaders reached over the weekend appears to have used parts of S-4117’s filed text, which diverged significantly from how House-passed companion HR-7624 dealt with the framework for repurposing the 3.1-3.45 GHz band, lobbyists said. The version of HR-7624 the House passed in July (see 2207280052) calls for identifying ways to use all 350 MHz on the band for either nonfederal use or shared use with federal incumbents. S-4117 envisions an FCC auction of at least 200 MHz on the frequency. Wicker, who will be lead Republican on the Armed Services Committee in January, had previously been pushing to clear the Pentagon off at least the top 150 MHz of the band.
Cantwell, Wicker and others agreed to include language modifying the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s original 3.1-3.45 GHz auction framework to restore NTIA’s spectrum management authority, lobbyists said. IIJA’s passed language gave DOD more power to identify how much of the band the federal government makes available for commercial 5G. The modified language appeared to have support from NTIA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, lobbyists said. The language would have allowed DOD’s study on relocating its systems off the band to continue. NTIA would then work with DOD to make recommendations based on the report for FCC repurposing parts of the band, lobbyists said.
Rounds, a Senate Armed Services member, “has been engaged on this issue,” a spokesperson emailed. Senate Commerce and the White House didn’t comment. DOD repeatedly objected to proposals that would have diminished its role in determining whether it would relocate some systems off the 3.1-3.45 GHz band, including the house-passed HR-7624.
Color of Change, Free Press Action and MediaJustice urged Senate leaders to make Sohn’s confirmation a priority in the lame duck’s waning days. “We are deeply concerned that antisemitic, homophobic and racist smears against Ms. Sohn have contributed to the inaction of the Senate on her confirmation,” the groups said in a letter to Cantwell, Wicker, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “These attacks, which reflect a nationwide rise in antisemitism and backlash against progress made by Black people, women and LGBTQIA+ people, provide an ugly backdrop for industry efforts to maintain a 2-2 tie” at the FCC.
“It is critical for the Senate to see past these smears and confirm” Sohn because “the delay in her confirmation has not been without consequence,” the groups said. “The failure to confirm Sohn has slowed the agency’s ability to adopt policies to close the digital divide, which disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people’s internet adoption, enforce our nation’s communications law, promote diversity and localism in broadcast ownership and more.”
The LPTV Broadcasters Association raised concerns Friday about Senate Commerce leaders placing S-3405 on the chamber’s executive calendar amid the lame-duck time crunch. The measure would open a window to allow low-power television stations to upgrade to better-protected Class A status (see 2206220070). Retiring lead GOP sponsor Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., “still has no understanding of the LPTV industry,” the group said in an email to members. “This is completely disrespectful for the Senate to push this type of ‘PRIVATE LEGISLATION’ through with only a few days left for” this Congress. “We all agree that protection of the contours for LPTV stations is one of the major priorities of this organization,” but S-3405 “is not the way to do it," the group said.