Senators Propose Using Satellite Auction Funds on Broadband Infrastructure

February 4, 2020 - (2 min read)

Senator John Kennedy (R-La.), along with Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) have introduced legislation to spend part of the anticipated revenues from auctions of the spectrum currently used by satellite companies. The spectrum, known as the C-band, is expected to be reallocated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to provide airwaves for future 5G service.

The “Spectrum Management And Reallocation for Taxpayers (SMART) Act” would allocate up to $1 billion of the spectrum auction’s proceeds for incentive payments for the satellite providers currently using the band, up to $5 billion to cover relocation costs, $5 billion to the U.S. Treasury, and the remainder to broadband infrastructure.

Up to $12.5 billion would be available for Next Generation 911 service, and the rest would be used for wireless and wired broadband infrastructure for unserved or underserved areas, including tribal land. Details for distribution of the funds, including how to define unserved and underserved areas eligible for funding, and whether local governments would be eligible entities, would be determined by the FCC in a rulemaking process.

The auction is expected to generate substantial revenues, and what to do with those funds has been seriously disputed in Congress. Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), who serve as the influential Senate Commerce Committee chair and Majority Whip, respectively, have called for using the revenues primarily for compensating satellite providers and paying down the national debt. The SMART Act represents a compromise option.

The FCC is expected to vote on the C-Band auction as soon as its next open commission meeting on February 28, so Congress would need to act quickly to put this revenue use structure in place. No companion legislation has yet been introduced in the House, although leadership in both parties of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have expressed tentative support for a compromise bill.


About the Author: Angelina Panettieri is the Legislative Manager for Information Technology and Communications at the National League of Cities. Follow her on twitter at @AngelinainDC.