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Op-Ed: More 5G for more Americans

T-Mobile has long been a participant in the FCC’s spectrum auctions, which the Commission has used for 30 years to rapidly assign licenses. These auctions fuel the U.S. economy — they’ve returned $233 billion to taxpayers so far, and once armed with this spectrum, wireless companies have spent another $635 billion building out networks.

American consumers benefit from these investments — they’ve resulted in the world’s best 5G service that is now a platform for innovators and has created millions of jobs.

That’s why Congress must act now to renew the FCC’s spectrum auction authority, which lapsed in March for the first time in 30 years. Without such authority, the FCC can’t auction licenses, and there’s no other practical way to bring more spectrum to market.

That’s a massive competitive disadvantage for the United States and a disadvantage for American consumers. 

Pumping more spectrum into the marketplace has benefitted Americans with faster and more capable networks that, for example, have allowed T-Mobile to offer home internet service over our 5G network to millions of underserved consumers. As consumer and business demands increase (customers with 5G phones on our Magenta MAX plan now use nearly 40 GBs per month), so does the requirement for more spectrum.

The U.S. needs a certain and reliable spectrum pipeline to meet Americans’ current and future needs.

For our part, T-Mobile has been working tirelessly to build and deploy the largest and fastest 5G network with our existing spectrum assets. Mid-band spectrum has given us the gas in the tank to supercharge our 5G network and offer home internet service that is bringing competition to cable.

In fact, we are now the fastest growing broadband provider in the U.S. So, when T-Mobile bid on, won, and paid more than $300 million for licenses in the most recent FCC auction (Auction 108), we made plans to immediately put that spectrum to use for consumers.

But the FCC did not grant our licenses prior to the lapse of auction authority, and they’re now stuck in regulatory limbo. Those licenses support wireless service in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. They will boost speeds and bring mid-band 5G to consumers for the first time in some places.

Many of the licenses sold cover rural areas where the spectrum has been dormant, sitting on the shelf at the FCC for nearly 30 years. In cities and suburbs, the licenses will allow us to create more consistent speed and capacity across metro areas.

Even though auction authority has lapsed, we strongly believe the FCC still has the power to issue the licenses from the last auction. After all, the auction finished successfully before the authority lapsed and all that’s left to do is routine processing of licenses from the completed auction.

We’re not alone in that view. Four former FCC General Counsels have said the FCC’s power to issue the stranded licenses is “unambiguous.” And regardless, T-Mobile will continue pushing Congress to renew the FCC’s auction authority right away, so we hope this issue becomes moot.

Author Neville Ray is president of technology at T-Mobile. (Credit: Jeff Bottari/AP Images for T-Mobile)

The good news is that the FCC has a backup tool to light up this key mid-band spectrum, bringing more 5G to more Americans. The Commission can grant Special Temporary Authority, or STAs, to allow us to turn on service while Congress finds a path forward on auction authority.

The FCC grants STAs to utilize spectrum when extraordinary circumstances exist. We think that a once-in-a-generation lapse of auction authority is extraordinary — and that we have the chance to unlock extraordinary benefits for consumers.

T-Mobile has built out the towers and radios needed to make use of this spectrum in many areas of the country. If we were given STAs today, we could light up many of these markets in a matter of days. That’s right — those radios are deployed and ready to be turned up. 

The only thing separating nearly 50 million Americans from enhanced capacity, a huge speed boost, and world-class 5G is the FCC issuing STAs. With the extra spectrum lit up, we’ll even have enough capacity to offer home internet to millions of families, many of whom never have had a choice in broadband providers.

T-Mobile will continue to work with Congress to reinstate the FCC’s auction authority and secure a future spectrum pipeline so that the U.S. remains a global wireless leader for years to come. And we’ll continue advocating for the FCC to use its licensing power to grant us what we won in the last auction.

But while we wait for Congress to act, let’s use every tool we have to make the world’s best 5G even better. Our network is ready — let’s get to work.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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