The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has written to the US Congress, urging them to act quickly to restore the Commission's authority to once again conduct spectrum auctions.

This comes after the US Senate allowed the spectrum auction authority of the FCC to lapse for the first time ever last month.

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A bill that would have extended the regulator’s spectrum authority to 19 May was passed by the lower house, but objections in the Senate (upper house) delayed the legislation, leading to the lapse.

For operators, this has meant that the agency has been unable to auction more spectrum for 5G networks, and has prompted T-Mobile to ask the FCC for temporary access to its 2.5GHz spectrum band as the US carrier has sought to deploy this in specific geographic areas.

In an open letter, the FCC's four leaders, including its Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, have requested the situation is resolved as soon as possible.

"As you know, the Commission’s auction authority expired for the first time in the program’s 30-year history on March 9, 2023," said the FCC.

"Restoring this authority will provide the United States with the strongest foundation to compete in a global economy, counter Chinese technology leadership ambitions, and safeguard our national security. Importantly, the United States cannot afford to wait. The global community will soon convene for another World Radiocommunication Conference to determine the future of spectrum policy, and we must send a strong signal in advance of that meeting of our continued commitment to lead in coming generations of wireless technologies."

The letter, which was penned on April 18, has been addressed to the Committee leadership team made up of Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Frank Pallone, Maria Cantwell, and Ted Cruz.

Since 1994, the US has conducted competitive auctions through the FCC, as opposed to assigning spectrum through comparative hearings under which the specific merits of each applicant are litigated.

This initial authority for the FCC was set to expire on September 30, 1998, but was extended by Congress, and has been several times since. The most recent long-term extension was granted as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, and expired on September 30, 2022.

However, since then, President Biden has temporarily extended the legislation an additional four times, with the latest extension signed on December 30, 2022, lasting through to March 9, 2023.

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