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What's next for Biden's spectrum strategy

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Mar 12, 2024
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Maria and Austin Bonner. Photo: Cori Baker on behalf of Axios

The Biden administration's plan to implement its national spectrum strategy dropped on Tuesday as the U.S. races to tap into the finite resource.

The big picture: In an interview with Axios at SXSW, Office of Science and Technology Policy deputy chief Austin Bonner said there's a lot of work to do in the next few years to meet President Biden's goals.

  • Those goals include "better commercial services, better national defense, all kinds of scientific research that we all depend on," Bonner said Sunday.

Why it matters: The strategy is meant to expand access to wireless broadband, drive spectrum sharing, boost U.S. innovation and promote digital equity.

State of play: The implementation plan lays out deadlines to complete studies on the 2,786 megahertz of spectrum identified in the strategy

  • The studies on the five bands identified are meant to determine whether they can be used in new ways, and are due between November 2024 and October 2026.

A final report for the lower 3 GHz band is due by October 2026.

  • The wireless industry is clamoring to use the band, currently controlled by DOD for military operations.
  • Bonner noted that the administration committed in the national strategy to study the band for commercial use: "We've got to do it in a way that's safe, but I think we're going to find the ways."

The clock is ticking, because countries aim to launch 6G technology for commercial use by 2030.

  • "It's important that we start making those plans, as we look toward standardization around 2030," Bonner said.

Yes, but: U.S. spectrum goals are being undermined by the FCC's lapsed spectrum auction authority, which lawmakers let expire a year ago for the first time in 30 years.

  • Legislation to reauthorize the FCC's authority had been held up because of language that would open up the lower 3 GHz band.

Sens. Ted Cruz and John Thune on Monday introduced the Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2024 to renew the FCC's authority and expand commercial access to mid-band spectrum, which the lower 3 GHz band falls under.

  • The bill instructs the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to identify at least 2,500 megahertz of mid-band spectrum that can be reallocated to nongovernment use or shared use in the next five years, including at least 1,250 megahertz in the next two years.

My thought bubble: The lower 3 GHz band has been the subject of extensive reports already from the Pentagon and the private sector.

  • NTIA stepping in could finally provide clarity on whether the band could be safely shared.
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