Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai asked members of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee for $65 million to implement the Broadband DATA Act, a law signed in March to improve the accuracy of broadband deployment maps.
Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-La., the chairman of the subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, pressed Pai on the $9.7 billion the commission has pledged to foreign satellite companies, who expedite clearing of spectrum bands relevant to 5G deployment. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., asked if the spectrum auction funds could be used for the mapping.
“If you have $9 billion in the 5G fund,” said Manchin, “we can’t get $65 million out of that to get the maps correct?”
Pai said that money could be used for broadband if legislation allocated it for that purpose, but said $65 million for IT infrastructure and other backend systems were needed to support the mapping and comply with the mandate in its first year.
“If we don’t get that funding soon, this well-intentioned law will end up significantly delaying rather expediting the production of better broadband maps,” Pai said. “We really need that money to get that program up and starting, so that whenever the rulemaking work is done, the technical, for lack of a better word, side will be able to get stood up quickly too.”
Manchin told Kennedy the funding for the broadband maps should be “at the highest priority” and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said he would “continue to press for those resources.”
Kennedy’s primary topic of questioning was the FCC’s upcoming C-band spectrum auction, scheduled for December. The spectrum is now used by satellite service providers, who are in line to receive $9.7 billion if they clear the spectrum early.
“Why do we have to give them $10 billion?” Kennedy asked.
“Clearing that spectrum two-to-four years earlier means that the wireless companies will be much more eager to bid at the auction,” said Pai, estimating that taxpayers could net $35 billion from the auction process.