Along with discussions of artificial intelligence and broad issues of federal efforts on technology research and development, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee’s hearing on industries of the future today raised debates on spectrum and auction policy, as well as queries about Wi-Fi on school buses and the best way to approach federal policy on autonomous vehicles.
FCC Commissioners Mike O’Rielly and Jessica Rosenworcel testified at the hearing, along with officials from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation, and the White Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Commissioner Rosenworcel called for “a plan to deploy 5G technology to everyone everywhere in the United States,” emphasizing her belief that the FCC has been too slow to deploy mid-band spectrum for 5G, focusing instead on higher bands, where propagation characteristics are not suited for rural use; “a plan to invest in training for the jobs of the future,” noting that the Department of Labor “does not currently list tower climbers as a priority in its job training programs”; and the opportunity for the FCC to exercise its authority over RF-emitting devices to encourage manufacturers to build security into devices.
Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R., Miss.) asked whether the FCC is “unified on how we do that [C-band] mid-band auction.”
“What is important is that we all recognize that this is the infrastructure of the future, and I think there is bipartisan agreement right now,” Ms. Rosenworcel said. However, she said the effort “would be well served by having the committee develop legislation on a path forward.”
“I think we’ll certainly want to be heard on where the money [from auction revenues] goes,” Chairman Wicker said.
Mr. O’Rielly emphasized, “There has to be an incentive to satellite providers to expedite the auction, otherwise you’re going to have litigation.”
Ms. Rosenworcel said that “Congress setting forth a clear path would reduce litigation risk.”
Mr. O’Rielly said, “I always support legislation but absent that we need to move forward.” If Congress plans to enact legislation, it “needs to be done soon,” he added.
It is more important that “we get it right” than that it gets done fast, Ms. Rosenworcel said.
“I hope this doesn’t become a proxy on [the question of] should we pay foreign satellite companies,” committee ranking member Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.) said. “They don’t own the spectrum.”
Regarding reclaiming or sharing spectrum with the Defense Department and civilian agencies, Ms. Rosenworcel said that “we need incentives. Otherwise we get into knockdown fights with the military, aviation,” and other interests.
“There are already incentives in statute,” Mr. O’Rielly said. “We need a stick.” He noted, “We don’t allow them to hold land that isn’t incorporated into their budget.”
Asked about work force training, Mr. O’Rielly said that “it’s more than just tower climbing. There’s RF tuning and communications siting.”
Sen. Tom Udall (D., N.M.) said that he had introduced a bill with Sen. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) to enable the E-rate to support Wi-Fi service on school buses and that he looks “forward to having this bill marked up by the committee.”
Chairman Wicker later said, “We’re lacking a [Congressional Budget Office] score on the school bus legislation, and without that we’re unable to go to markup. Perhaps we can both work on that.”
In a statement, Christina Mason, vice president–government affairs for the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, said, “As the Senate and other policymakers examine the ways to maintain America’s global economic and high-tech edge, they can ensure that small fixed wireless companies can continue to contribute to American prosperity by promoting meaningful access to unlicensed spectrum—such as in the 6 GHz, 5.9 GHz, C-Band, CBRS, and EBS bands. This focus, which looks to balance the needs of licensed, lightly licensed and unlicensed wireless providers, will bring more broadband solutions to America’s “industries of the future,” better guaranteeing success, growth and U.S. economic and technological leadership.”
Wireless Infrastructure Association Vice President–government and public affairs Matt Mandel said, in support of the Industries of the Future Act introduced by the committee members yesterday (TR Daily, Jan. 14), “WIA strongly supports the Industries of the Future Act. Better federal coordination on workforce development investments is vital to make the future workforce is a properly trained workforce. WIA has been leading the way to train and build a 5G-ready workforce, and this legislation is a significant leap for future skills and future jobs that our nation needs.” —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
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