By Sen. John Thune & Sen. Bill Nelson
March 3, 2016 at 5:00 am ET
In Congressional testimony and in news reports, technology experts have repeatedly underscored the importance of wireless services for advancements in medicine, train safety, aerial drones, emergency response, entertainment, connecting Americans who still don’t have high-speed Internet access, and the much anticipated Internet of Things that will make devices – from cars to light bulbs – “smart.” In fact, it’s increasingly difficult for us to have a conversation about innovation without talking about wireless broadband.
Increased speed and availability of wireless broadband, transmitted over our airwaves is a key, if not the key, to realizing the full potential of our digital future. Today, the Senate Commerce Committee has the opportunity to pass a proposal called the MOBILE NOW Act. This legislation will help bring the onset of ultra-fast, next generation wireless technology known as 5G.
Our wireless future won’t just mean faster movie downloads and more advanced smartphones, but rather massive leaps forward in technology, safety, and the economic rewards that will make life better here in America. But to make this future a reality, before our international competitors beat us to it, we have to put the right policies in place.
The bands of electromagnetic spectrum that make up our nation’s airwaves, and which transmit wireless broadband and other signals, are in limited supply. While we can’t make more airwaves to carry additional spectrum, we can make changes to how they are used and who they are used by to improve efficiency and do more with what we have.
Late last year, Congress enacted critical changes requiring the federal government to auction off 30 megahertz of spectrum nationwide for private sector use. This spring, thanks to work done by Congress in 2012, televisions stations will have an opportunity to voluntarily give up their spectrum to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in return for compensation, allowing the agency to auction off those spectrum rights to bidders willing to pay a premium so that those airwaves can be repurposed for mobile broadband.
Complementing these efforts to free up airwaves for broadband, the MOBILE NOW Act will require the government to make another 255 megahertz of spectrum available for private sector use by 2020. The bill also directs the federal government to assess the broadband suitability of more than 12,000 megahertz of super-high frequency spectrum that today, for technical reasons, has seen only limited use, but could be more viable in the near future as technology advances – all while protecting the Federal government’s mission-critical communications systems to protect national and homeland security. While work on making these bands viable for broadband has already begun, the MOBILE NOW Act will push hard for America to lead the world into the 5G wireless future.
Making spectrum available is important, but freeing up spectrum does not help our digital economy until we put it to good use. This is why several of the MOBILE NOW Act’s provisions focus on speeding up the deployment of the communications facilities at the heart of our nation’s broadband networks.
First, our bill reduces red tape so that wireless broadband communications networks can be built more quickly. The legislation requires the FCC to streamline rules for siting new and physically smaller 5G infrastructure like advanced antennas. This will help move forward the deployment of equipment that is essential to support ultra-fast 5G wireless technologies.
The MOBILE NOW Act also creates a new duty for federal agencies to make decisions on requests for placing wireless infrastructure on federal property in a timely and reasonable manner. This is particularly critical for rural states where siting on federal lands could facilitate new high-speed Internet connections for communities that wired broadband hasn’t reached.
The legislation we introduced, and will present to the Senate Commerce Committee for its consideration today, is legislation that will bring our wireless future into focus faster. Let’s keep the digital revolution on track by welcoming the next 5G wireless wave with the MOBILE NOW Act.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee; Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) is the ranking member of the committee.