Bipartisan Group Calls for More Unlicensed Spectrum

Advocates more flexibility for FCC

A group of 42 members of Congress, mostly Democrats, are urging the payroll tax cut conference committee to let the Federal Communications Commission make available more unlicensed spectrum, a key policy initiative of companies like Google and Microsoft.

Spectrum legislation is being considered by the conferees as one of the pay-fors in the payroll tax extension package. But the House spectrum bill currently in the payroll tax cut package does not allow the FCC to set aside some of the reclaimed spectrum from broadcasters for unlicensed use. The bill requires the FCC to auction it for commercial use in order to raise $16.7 billion for the Treasury.

In a letter sent to the conferees Thursday, the group, led by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), argued that unlicensed spectrum generates between $16 billion and $37 billion annually for the U.S. economy. They also said it made possible technological innovations such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Unlicensed spectrum can help reduce congestion on wireless networks.

"Spectrum policy must recognize that both licensed and unlicensed spectrum in the television band maximizes the economic benefits of wireless broadband. With a balanced approach to spectrum policy, we can unlock billions of dollars in private investment, new innovations, job creation and economic growth," the letter stated.

When it comes to legislation to free up more spectrum for wireless services, there's been no shortage of disagreement. There has also been debate over how much authority the FCC should have when conducting spectrum auctions. The House spectrum bill, supported by conferees Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.), does not allow the FCC to decide which companies should be allowed to participate in spectrum auctions. Democrats and wireless competitors to AT&T and Verizon prefer the FCC be given more flexibility in conducting the auctions.