This week, the MOBILE NOW act, a bill that would allow for the sale of federal wireless spectrum to the private sector, was scheduled for a markup in the Senate Commerce Committee. However, it appears the bill will now have to wait - possibly until next year - to move.
While passage of the bill is important to Commerce Chair Senator John Thune (R-SD), the bill’s complexity, coupled with the long list of “must-pass” legislation, has tabled action on the bill for the foreseeable future.
While Thune says he has been working closely with ranking member Senator Bill Nelson’s office, sources say that other Democrats on the committee have not yet been asked for their input, so a markup will be the first time committee Democrats can debate the complex policy.
Even if the Senate could push a bill through, its future would remain uncertain. Recent spectrum policy has only been passed after being wrapped into other legislation.
Further, there are doubts that House members would want to take up the bill after having already included the Spectrum Pipeline bill in the recently-passed budget deal. That bill directs the Federal Communications Commission to auction off 30 megahertz (MHz) of airwaves owned by the government to companies by 2024.
Thune’s bill would bring in additional revenue to the government, while also committing to free up as much spectrum for the private sector as possible. An agency could receive up to 25 percent of the revenue earned in the sale of their spectrum. The bill incentivizes agencies to give up their spectrum.
The current language of the draft says the federal agency gets 25 percent of the money made selling their airwaves, but only if they relinquish it completely. If they don’t, the most they can get is five percent.
Other provisions in the bill are less controversial and should garner quick support.
One would amend the Spectrum Pipeline bill within the recently passed two year budget deal by directing the FCC to auction off 50 MHz instead of 30 MHz, and would require it to be auctioned by the end of 2020 instead of 2024. Another would solidify President Obama’s plan to free up 500 MHz for use in the private sector, an ambition he first announced in 2011.