Delayed Spectrum Auction Risks US 5G Plans: FCC Commissioner

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Further delaying a 5G spectrum auction is endangering the United States' position in the global race to the commercialization of the fifth generation of mobile networks, according to Jessica Rosenworcel, the Democratic Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission. While speaking at a Tuesday press conference, Ms. Rosenworcel dismissed Chairman Ajit Pai's claims that the federal regulator is unable to legally conduct an auction until it complies with a number of rules that are currently in the process of being revoked. According to the Commissioner, the agency's unwillingness to push through with preparations for a 5G spectrum auction is an act of ceding "our leadership to other nations," with her comments specifically mentioning South Korea as already starting the process of auctioning off its 5G spectrum. Ms. Rosenworcel urged the Commission to try and circumvent the current issues or at the very least start preparing for the auction by setting a target date and drafting a proposal to change the regulations that the Republican head of the FCC claims are keeping their hands tied.

Mr. Pai previously argued that the Communications Act dictates all companies planning to bid at an upcoming spectrum auction must deposit upfront payments to an account at a bank or another institution chosen by the FCC after the agency consults on the matter with the office of the Secretary of Treasury, a position that's currently filled by Steven Mnuchin. The head of the FCC said not a single bank or a similar institution is presently offering to hold upfront payments deposited by the bidders, being discouraged from doing so due to a number of new regulations mandating capitalization and collateralization of such deposits.

Ms. Rosenworcel isn't convinced by those arguments, citing last year's 600MHz auction that saw the FCC successfully circumvent the rules that are largely viewed as obsolete and should be revoked in the near future. The Chairman previously denied the notion of conceding the global 5G race, claiming the U.S. is still the leading force in the segment. Not everyone in Washington agrees with that assessment, as evidenced by a recently leaked memo said to have been authored by a National Security Council official who claimed the U.S. must nationalize 5G infrastructure or be at a major security risk from China while simultaneously losing a broader technology race to Beijing.

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