Lawmakers are watching closely as the debate unfolds at the agency, and more of them are likely to weigh in as the FCC works toward implementing the auctions in 2014. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that spectrum licenses will generate $15 billion for the government over the next decade, but Pai said some money may be left on the table if the agency doesn’t license as much spectrum as possible.
Pai is likely to find supporters on Capitol Hill. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee, introduced a bill during the auction legislation negotiations that would have prevented the FCC from setting aside additional airwaves for unlicensed use. Walden has not responded directly to Pai’s comments.
But John Bergmayer, a senior staff attorney for Public Knowledge, a group that favors unlicensed spectrum, said lawmakers such as Eshoo — who represents part of Silicon Valley and technology companies that stand to benefit from the availability of unlicensed spectrum — are likely to continue pushing back against proposals to limit it.
“There’s certainly always that risk that the FCC won’t have enough spectrum set aside for unlicensed use, but I’m pretty confident based on what they have proposed that they recognize its importance,” Bergmayer said in an interview.
While lawmakers are certain to make their opinions on the matter known, Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood, who monitors spectrum policy, said that’s likely to be as far as legislators go.
“It’s unlikely the Congress will do anything else,” Wood said. “It’s handed the FCC the authority to set aside spectrum for unlicensed use as the auction takes place. It’s simply trying to remind the FCC of that purpose.”