Senate lawmakers are looking for ways to put even more of the government's wireless spectrum — the invisible airwaves that carry mobile voice and data over the air — into the hands of the private sector.
Under the draft text of a bill now being informally considered by the Senate Commerce Committee, the government could be instructed to find and relinquish an additional 20 megahertz of publicly owned spectrum beyond the 30 MHz President Obama agreed to when he signed a two-year budget deal on Monday. Agencies would be required to auction off the total 50 MHz by 2024.
The move accelerates an important push by industry and lawmakers to build a long-term "spectrum pipeline" designed to ensure that the country's wireless communications networks can keep growing.
Demand for new spectrum is soaring as businesses develop increasingly sophisticated mobile and wireless technologies. From faster LTE networks to smart appliances and Internet-connected vehicles, the additional spectrum could support a range of applications and services.
The draft legislation, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, provides other incentives to speed up the deployment of mobile and wired Internet access. To encourage government agencies to give up the spectrum they currently hold but may not be using, the draft bill proposes to give them up to a 25 percent cut of auction proceeds. It would enshrine into law a voluntary commitment in 2010 by President Obama to clear up 500 MHz of spectrum by 2020. And it includes an idea that would make it easier for Internet providers to lay down new networks, known as "dig once."
A committee spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the draft but warned that changes to it are still possible ahead of its introduction as a formal bill.
If approved, the legislation would amend and expand on a previous spectrum bill, the Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2015, that President Obama signed into law as part of this week's budget deal. Wireless industry officials praised the Spectrum Pipeline Act when it was approved, but said it was "disappointing" that the bill did not do more.
Now, it appears as though Congress is acting on those remarks.