The U.S. Senate can rarely agree on anything, but it came together on Friday to unanimously pass a bill proposed by Sen. John Kennedy to temporarily re-authorize the Federal Communications Commission to allocate spectrum, a move that gets T-Mobile closer to tapping into spectrum it’s been patiently waiting to get its hands on.
Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, earlier this month introduced the 5G Spectrum Authority Licensing Enforcement (SALE) Act, an attempt to circumvent the political battles and technical hurdles that have led to the FCC losing its long-standing authority to dole out radio licenses. Feeling the pain in particular is T-Mobile, which last year spent $304 million to win a swath of spectrum it says can greatly expand its 5G mobile and home internet services in different parts of the US, including many rural areas that lack adequate service.
Because of the FCC holdup, T-Mobile has been left waiting on this spectrum despite paying for it a year ago.
The universal support for the bill is a good sign that this could move quickly through the House and be signed by President Joe Biden. T-Mobile has been chomping on the bit looking to use the spectrum, which ferries data from your phone to nearby cell towers.
“My 5G SALE Act provides Americans with access to broadband by giving the FCC the authority to finish transferring previously auctioned spectrum to companies that offer 5G coverage,” Kennedy said in a statement on Friday. “The House should move quickly to send this bill to the president’s desk so that the job providers who depend on wireless communications in Louisiana and across America can continue to support rural economies.”
While T-Mobile has a wealth of spectrum in a lot of the major markets, particularly on the East and West Coast, it stills needs to bulk up coverage in many areas in middle America. The radio airwaves purchased from the FCC’s Auction 108 run in the 2.5 gigahertz frequency, which offer a sweet compromise in both range and speed, and would be key to expanding cover of T-Mobile’s 5G network.
Kennedy’s bill marks just a bandage for the FCC, since this only gives the agency the power to dole out spectrum already purchased in prior auctions. Congress still needs to pass a law giving full authority back to the FCC in order for the agency to continue running auctions in the future.