- The Washington Times
Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Congress is reviewing rules to manage the nation’s electromagnetic spectrum resources to avoid falling behind China on both 5G deployment and future 6G wireless technology.

The Federal Communications Commission’s authority to auction spectrum and grant licenses expires in September. Commercial enterprises use spectrum to provide consumers access to services such as radio, broadcast television and wireless technology.  

Spectrum auctions have made $200 billion for the U.S. government, and now the Biden administration is tinkering with how federal agencies coordinate spectrum policy, according to a memo from House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat. 

“It has been reported that China has made at least three times as much mid-band spectrum available to commercial mobile providers as compared to the United States,” said the memo.

The private sector also is warning Congress that time is running out. The technology company Intel told lawmakers on Wednesday that a failure to identify spectrum and make it available will cost the U.S. mightily.

“Unless we move rapidly now, the U.S. will not be in a position to take the leadership role to help define which spectrum ranges will be utilized globally for 6G,” said Jayne Stancavage, Intel’s global executive director of digital infrastructure policy, at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing. 

China is not wasting time. The country has potentially made at least three times as much midband spectrum available to commercial mobile providers as the U.S., according to Mr. Pallone’s memo. 

The 5G competition has awoken federal policymakers to the competitive threat posed by China’s desire to win. Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, described China’s pursuit of high-tech development now as akin to the Soviet Union launching the Sputnik satellite first, which kick-started the space race in the last century.  

“I do think that whether we take Huawei and 5G or the shortage on chips, it’s kind of our generation’s Sputnik moment,” Mr. Warner recently told the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I absolutely believe we need additional investment in basic [research and development].” 

The FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration said in January they formed a new Spectrum Coordination Initiative to do things like holding formal monthly meetings between the agencies on spectrum planning. 

Earlier this month, Republican Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi and John Thune of South Dakota wrote to the FCC to ask for an update on the commission’s work on spectrum auctions.

While policymakers work urgently to address challenges ahead in 5G and 6G, potential problems loom in the rearview mirror. Mobile carriers are shutting down 3G networks this year, with AT&T’s shutdown commencing last month and Verizon and T-Mobile’s turning off 3G later this year, according to the FCC. 

When the shutdowns are complete, the FCC said to expect 3G mobile phones and certain older 4G cellphones will be unable to send or receive calls and texts, including 911 calls. Other devices, such as some home security systems, tablets and medical devices that use 3G also will be affected.

The FCC has encouraged people to contact their mobile provider with questions about their 3G plans and said some devices may only require a software update. 

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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