WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a full hearing that examined “removing barriers to wireless broadband deployment,” against the backdrop of lawmakers considering policies to encourage investment in more broadband.
Among the bills currently circulating the House and Senate are: The Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2015, which aims to create a framework for the Federal Communications Commission’s reclaimed wireless broadband spectrum auction; the Wireless Innovation Act, which is aimed at transferring at least 200 megahertz of spectrum from federal government use to commercial use; the Rural Spectrum Act of 2015, which targets increasing access of wireless and broadband services to rural Americans; and the Federal Incentive Spectrum Act, which aims to free up more spectrum for our growing mobile broadband usage.
To gather more information on how the Senate can best act to remove regulatory barriers toward greater infrastructure investment, the committee called several expert witnesses including: Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of PCIA – The Wireless Infrastructure Association; Douglas Kinkoph, associate administrator of the Office of Telecommunications and Information Applications, National Telecommunications and Information Administration; and Bruce Morrison, VP of 0perations and network build North America for Ericsson. Also present were Mayor Gary Resnik of Wilton Manors, Fla., as well as Cory Reed, SVP of intelligent solutions at Deere & Co.
The witnesses and the committee were in full agreement that more spectrum is needed, and that spectrum is no longer simply helpful to the economy, but vital. Adelstein, who previously served as a commissioner of the FCC, noted that over the next five years the demand for data is expected to grow by 700%. Additionally, wireless infrastructure currently accounts for $1.2 trillion in investment and 1.3 million jobs.
Despite the broad scope of the issue, there is a consensus that federal regulations need to be eased, especially in the context of tower placement. Policy guidelines need to be provided for local and municipal governments to help streamline tower placement, and the metric for measuring connectivity needs to be changed.
The FCC, through its Universal Service Fund, has awarded $1.5 billion to provide Internet access to 7.3 million people. However, the growth of the “Internet of Things” economy, especially precision farming, left several senators questioning if number of people is still an adequate metric to measure connectivity.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.VA.) also raised concerns that any newly opened spectrum could be held hostage by speculators. One measure to combat those concerns that the committee examined was to enact a “use it or lose it” policy for spectrum license holders.