Key Stakeholders Support AIRWAVES Bill — for Different Reasons

Often sparring partners, the wireless industry and public interest advocates both came out in support of the AIRWAVES Act — but with very different hopes for where the legislation would lead.

The bill instructs the Federal Communications Commission to auction off the government-controlled spectrum of radio frequencies used for wireless communication, with the first auction to be held by next December. The bill would allow some spectrum for exclusive, or “licensed” use, as well as some for shared, or “unlicensed” use.

Public interest advocates have pushed the FCC to give more access to unlicensed users by allowing them to share spectrum with private companies who get exclusive rights to certain bands. Those with licenses argue sharing can interfere with their signals. The AIRWAVES bill, which stands for Advancing Innovation and Reinvigorating Widespread Access to Viable Electromagnetic Spectrum, leaves the matter up to the FCC.

Praise poured in Tuesday for the bill’s bipartisan sponsors, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) from industry groups and advocates, but focused on different parts of the legislation.

“CTIA applauds Senators Gardner and Hassan for their forward thinking,” read an emailed statement from the largest trade group representing the U.S. wireless communications industry, including Sprint, Verizon and AT&T. “This legislation provides a much needed long-term plan to unlock valuable licensed spectrum as demand for wireless data and content continues to skyrocket.”

While CTIA was careful to highlight the exclusive spectrum, WiFiForward, whose members include the American Library Association and progressive think-tank New America, only mentioned open “unlicensed” spectrum in their statement of support.

In a separate statement, New America went further, pushing lawmakers to allow unlicensed spectrum users to share a band of frequencies currently licensed by fixed satellite owners.

“There is an immediate opportunity to share 500 megahertz of underutilized satellite spectrum above 3.7 GHz for more affordable rural and small town broadband,” said Michael Calabrese, director of New America’s Wireless Future Project.

He argued that the AIRWAVES bill could miss an opportunity to create greater broadband access sooner “if the sole focus is raising one-time auction revenue that requires clearing satellite incumbents off the band,” since that process would take a decade to implement.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has his own plans to bridge the digital divide, specifically cheered a provision of the bill that sets aside 10 percent of proceeds from the auctions to be invested in rural broadband development, according to a statement. His office on Wednesday declined to comment on the kind of sharing Calabrese suggested.

Licensed spectrum holders have been disinclined to share their bands, but that could be changing — at least in one area.

The AIRWAVES bill mandates a notice of proposed rulemaking by the FCC to “create opportunities” for unlicensed use of spectrum just above the 5 GHz band — adjacent to space currently held by automakers. Former FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has promoted testing whether automakers can share the spectrum without interference from other users; the car companies say such sharing could cause disruptions in vehicle-to-vehicle communication. A Senate committee on Wednesday voted to advance Rosenworcel’s nomination for a second term at the FCC.

Current FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, a Republican, is also on record supporting some sharing of the band with unlicensed users.

With a particular focus on wireless broadband, the FCC on Thursday is set to vote on a notice of inquiry to explore opportunities for “flexible use” of the crucial mid-band spectrum, which spans 3.7 Ghz to 24 GHz.

Correction: A previous version of this story mischaracterized the spectrum currently used by automakers.


Tech Brief: Lobbying Tech Groups Target NAFTA Renegotiations

According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the number of tech companies and trade associations registered to lobby U.S., Canadian and Mexican government officials has more than doubled in the last few months. Companies like Cisco Systems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are looking to zero out tariffs for tech goods and remove restrictions on cloud storage as officials prepare to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Tech Brief: Intel CEO Leaves Trump’s Manufacturing Council

Brian Krzanich, Intel Corp.’s chief executive, joined the chief executives of Merck and Under Armour in announcing that he would leave Trump’s council on American manufacturing following the president’s response to violence during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Krzanich said he resigned “to call attention to the serious harm our divided political climate is causing to critical issues.” 

Tech Brief: Week in Review & What’s Ahead

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit will not block the Federal Communications Commission’s April decision to eliminate price caps for much of the business broadband market. The FCC’s business data services ruling deems certain local markets as competitive, even when there is only one broadband service provider.

Tech Brief: Benchmark Capital Sues Former Uber CEO Kalanick

Benchmark Capital is suing Uber Technologies Inc.’s co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick for not honoring the terms of his resignation and allegedly trying to stack the company’s board with allies to prepare for a return as CEO. The Silicon Valley venture firm, one of Uber’s biggest shareholders, alleges that Kalanick is attempting to “entrench himself for his own selfish ends” — an accusation a Kalanick spokesman called “without merit.”

Tech Brief: Kaspersky Lab, Microsoft Reach Antitrust Resolution

Cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab plans to withdraw antitrust complaints it made in Europe against Microsoft Corp. after the U.S. tech company agreed to work with outside antivirus vendors on delivery of its security updates for Windows users. The Moscow-based security company in June accused Microsoft of abusing its dominance in the computer market by favoring its own antivirus software over those of independent security companies.

Tech Brief: SoftBank Considers U.S. Ride-Hailing Investment

SoftBank Group Corp.’s founder and CEO, Masayoshi Son, publicly expressed interest in branching out into the U.S. ride-hailing market by investing in Uber Technologies Inc. or Lyft Inc. SoftBank has funded Uber’s competitors in China, India and Southeast Asia, but last month reports came out that the company was looking at buying a stake in Uber.

Tech Brief: Week in Review & What’s Ahead

Apple Inc. agreed to remove virtual private network applications from its app stores in China. The Chinese government has been bolstering its “great firewall,” which blocks access to many, mostly foreign, websites — a firewall that VPNs could circumvent. The company defended its actions, saying it complies with the law in every country, but is facing public backlash for giving into China’s censorship demands.

Load More