The House and the Senate have passed identical legislation that aims to address one of the roadblocks that the wireless industry has experienced since Congress failed to renew the FCC’s auction authority, thereby prohibiting the commission from conducting spectrum auctions or completing other related tasks. President Biden is expected to sign the legislation, known as the 5G Spectrum Authority Licensing Enforcement Act, or 5G SALE Act for short.
The specific issue that the legislation addresses relates to Auction 108 of spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band that was completed over a year ago. There were 63 winning bidders in the auction, but T-Mobile won over 90% of the licenses that had winning bids.
Before its auction authority expired in March, the commission approved licenses for all the winners except T-Mobile.
The 5G SALE Act would authorize the FCC to process applications from applicants who were successful bidders in an auction before the FCC authorization expired.
Spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band is considered mid-band spectrum, which is widely viewed as supporting the optimum mixture of speed and coverage. T-Mobile already had vast 2.5 GHz holdings before the auction and was using spectrum in that band to support relatively high 5G speeds over a large part of the U.S. Obtaining the additional 2.5 GHz spectrum would enable the company to expand that network, which supports fixed and mobile service.
This will benefit T-Mobile at the expense of mobile competitors AT&T and Verizon, noted Blair Levin, policy advisor to New Street Research, in a research note. This will also be a negative for Comcast and Charter, both of whom have seen subscribers cancel internet service in order to switch to T-Mobile’s fixed wireless offering.
Levin cited research from The Brattle Group that estimated that T-Mobile would be able to upgrade service to over 50 million individuals almost immediately and would be able to expand the fixed wireless offering to 3 million households.