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Gardner, Hassan, Colleagues Reintroduce Bipartisan AIRWAVES Legislation to Support Wireless Innovation and Close the Urban-Rural Divide

Washington, D.C. – Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) today reintroduced the Advancing Innovation and Reinvigorating Widespread Access to Viable Electromagnetic Spectrum (AIRWAVES) Act, which will encourage the federal government to continue to free up spectrum for commercial licensed and unlicensed use and leverage the success of spectrum auctions to help close the urban-rural divide.

First, the legislation establishes a spectrum pipeline that will provide more capacity for wireless providers to improve existing service and expand to new areas, as well as to provide greater access to spectrum for innovators to develop important next-generation technologies. The AIRWAVES Act aims to motivate industry and federal agencies to find ways to better utilize spectrum and avoid a spectrum crunch and lay the groundwork for 5G technologies. Second, this legislation requires 10 percent of all of the proceeds from spectrum auctions in the bill to go directly to wireless broadband infrastructure buildout in unserved and underserved areas throughout rural communities across the country.

Spectrum is the invisible network of airwaves over which signals and data travel. Cell phones, Wi-Fi networks, satellites, television, and more all rely on readily available spectrum to operate, but it is a finite resource. Gardner and Hassan’s legislation aims to make more efficient use of spectrum and requires the federal government to auction off more spectrum in a timely manner, as well as free up additional unlicensed spectrum to support wireless devices like tablets, as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies. Over the past several years, the federal government has auctioned off billions of dollars of spectrum that the wireless industry has used to free up more space on the airwaves for their customers’ mobile phones, and unlicensed spectrum also contributes billions annually to the economy. 

“The AIRWAVES Act is bipartisan, commonsense legislation that frees up more spectrum for commercial licensed and unlicensed users and will help bridge the divide between urban and rural Colorado,” said Senator Gardner. “This legislation offers innovative ways to avoid a spectrum crunch, pave the way for 5G service, and provide critical resources to rural America to continue rural buildout in unserved and underserved areas throughout Colorado and the country.” 

“Granite State businesses and families alike need fast and reliable internet access, but lack of spectrum capacity can stand in the way of getting us there,” said Senator Hassan. “The bipartisan AIRWAVES Act would free up badly-needed spectrum to help speed up the development of innovative 5G technologies and, crucially, it would also make meaningful investments in expanding rural broadband infrastructure in places like New Hampshire.”  

“I thank Senators Gardner and Hassan for their bipartisan work to reintroduce the AIRWAVES Act. Spectrum is the lifeblood of wireless carriers, and making additional spectrum available for commercial use will greatly benefit consumers, industry and the economy as a whole, while the rural dividend provision will help close the digital divide. All Americans, particularly those in rural and hard-to-reach areas, need access to robust mobile broadband services, and I commend the senators for their tireless work and innovative ideas to ensure no consumers are left behind as we move toward next-generation technologies,” said CCA President & CEO Steven K. Berry.

“NCTA welcomes the efforts by Senators Gardner and Hassan in the re-introduced AIRWAVES Act both to expand access to unlicensed spectrum that will power Gigabit Wi-Fi and to consider approaches that might fairly balance the needs of incumbent users and America’s 5G goals. We look forward to working with the bill’s sponsors and other members of the committee on these important issues,” said NCTA – The Internet and Television Association. 

“The reintroduction of the AIRWAVES Act comes at a critical time and we need it to create a pipeline of spectrum for nationwide 5G deployment. Wireless broadband internet access will power next-gen technologies that will transform industries including healthcare and telecommunications. We look forward to working with the House and Senate as the AIRWAVES Act develops,” said Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA).