On December 29, President Joe Biden signed into law H.R. 2617, titled the "Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023." The bill is known to many as the enormous 1,400+ page, $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill that was pushed through at the tail end of the 117th Congress. Putting aside judgment about whether the bill is good, bad, or ugly, page 774 of the 1,653-page pdf document of the H.R. 2617 contains a provision that is directly relevant to federal communications policy:
TITLE IX—EXTENSION OF FCC AUCTION AUTHORITY
SEC. 901. EXTENSION OF FCC AUCTION AUTHORITY.
Section 309(j)(11) of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 309(j)(11)) is amended by striking "December 23, 2022" and inserting "March 9, 2023".
This stopgap measure for extending the FCC's authority to prepare and conduct spectrum license auctions certainly is better than letting that authority lapse. But the 118th Congress now has an important task before it. As pointed out in a blog posts from July and October of 2022, spectrum is a valuable economic resource, and significantly more spectrum – particularly in the mid-band range – needs to be repurposed for commercial wireless use. Congress has an obligation to maximize the efficient usage of the spectrum that currently remains under federal control. And it can carry out that important obligation by granting a long-term extension of the Commission's authority to auction spectrum licenses for commercial use by private market providers – and also by directing the Commission, in coordination with the NTIA, to auction spectrum in the 3.1-3.45 GHz band.
In 2023, expect FSF scholars to have more to say on FCC auction authority and the repurposing the lower 3 GHz band for commercial use.