Thank you for holding a hearing on this important topic, Chairwoman Johnson.
Spectrum allocation may not always receive front-page news coverage, but it affects our lives daily. We use the spectrum for everything from transmitting cellphone signals, to broadcasting radio stations, to monitoring weather patterns. Farmers who use GPS to engage in precision agriculture rely on clear spectrum frequencies. Scientists use data from orbiting satellites to forecast severe weather events rely on spectrum. And in the future, rural Americans might receive faster and more reliable broadband internet thanks to orbiting satellite constellations using the spectrum.
Today’s hearing is timely, as it comes a day after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, requested by this committee, evaluating the interagency process for allocating spectrum when there are different interests at play. The report makes it clear that the existing process is flawed and highlights a number of instances in which coordination fell apart. We can’t afford to have this happen again.
Our request for this GAO evaluation was prompted by the contentious process leading up to the 2019 domestic spectrum auction, which was intended to help spur the deployment of new 5G cellular technology infrastructure. All of this came before the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference, where the U.S. was negotiating updated spectrum allocation regulations and coordination with countries around the world.
Ahead of the auction, the weather community raised significant concerns about the potential loss of forecasting data due to the spillover from adjoining spectrum bands which would be used for 5G. This committee heard testimony from federal agencies such as NASA and NOAA about the potential negative effects of this auction. The Acting Administrator of NOAA told us that our forecast accuracy could be degraded by as much as 30 percent. That could have dangerous consequences for families and businesses, and for our ability to protect lives and property in severe weather.
As I said at the time, we all support the deployment of 5G. Advanced wireless communications offers many economic development opportunities for our constituents, and helps us remain competitive with China. With the growth of remote work and education since the pandemic, having reliable and fast connectivity is even more important now than ever. But spectrum allocation decisions cannot be about choosing connectivity over forecasting. We have a responsibility to seek a balance between the needs of federal users and non-commercial users of spectrum with commercial users of spectrum.
That is why the release of this GAO report is important. It identified a number of flaws and gaps in the processes for resolving interagency disagreements over spectrum allocation, as well as incidents in which agencies failed to coordinate effectively. The report also offers 11 recommendations for executive action which would result in an improved process in the future. It is critical that the Science Committee work with the other Committees of jurisdiction to ensure the agencies address these recommendations.
All stakeholders, from federal agencies to private companies, need a spectrum allocation process that is fair, transparent, and provides certainty for decision making, particularly as we negotiate internationally over spectrum issues. Regulatory instability is bad for business and can be especially lethal to satellites if regulations are not internationally harmonized since satellite signals do not stop at borders.
It is important that we note that the issues surrounding the spectrum allocation process in 2019 were not the first time spectrum allocations have been the source of controversy, and will certainly not be the last time, either. Indeed, the importance of spectrum allocation will continue to grow as we face increased utilization of 5G devices and the Internet of Things.
This is a challenging topic and one which will require multiple federal agencies working together to modernize existing processes and multiple Congressional committees working in tandem to ensure that we address these issues in the most effective manner, both nationally and internationally. That being said, I am confident we can find a path forward.
I want to thank our panel of witnesses for appearing before us today. They represent a variety of experts on spectrum issues who can speak to how the federal interagency process is intended to work, how it has worked previously, and ways federal agencies and Congress can work to improve the process moving forward.