T-Mobile has asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for temporary access to its 2.5GHz spectrum band as the US carrier seeks to deploy it in specific geographic areas.

The operator filed an application to the FCC last Friday, noting it's seeking Special Temporary Authority (“STA”) for the spectrum.

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It comes just weeks after the US Congress allowed the FCC's spectrum authority to lapse for the first time, which effectively prevents the auctioning of more 5G spectrum for operators.

For T-Mobile, it's a frustrating period, as the operator paid $304 million for 7,156 licenses of 2.5GHz spectrum during last summer's auction, but is unable to deploy this currently because of the fallout from Congress.

"While T-Mobile expects that the Commission’s auction authority will be restored, the timing for when that will occur is unclear. Due to these extraordinary circumstances, the 2.5GHz spectrum for which T-Mobile’s subsidiary was the high bidder at auction seems likely to remain idle for some period – an outcome clearly contrary to the public interest," said T-Mobile in its filing.

"Grant of this STA pursuant to Section 309(f) of the Act – which is separate from the Commission’s auction authority –will enable T-Mobile to put a significant amount of unused spectrum to immediate, albeit temporary, use for 5G in rural and underserved areas and to rapidly enhance mobile broadband services that benefit the public interest. The recent lapse in the FCC’s auction authority should not delay the benefit of putting spectrum to work for the American people."

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

Speaking earlier this month, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said: “It is my hope that the FCC’s auction authority is restored quickly so that this important program is once again able to produce results for consumers and the economy."

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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