The Federal Communications Commission plans to auction the broadest set of airwaves yet to speed the nation’s adoption of superfast 5G wireless communications, as well as devoting more than $20 billion to improving mobile connections in rural areas.
The actions represent the latest steps by the FCC to hasten the arrival of 5G, which will allow activities including driverless cars and remote surgery, while smart machines in homes and factories communicate via the so-called internet of things.
“The consumer benefits are going to be massive,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in an interview Friday on Bloomberg TV. “All kinds of industries, from agriculture to transportation to health care, will be transformed.”
U.S. telecommunications providers are racing to be first to market with 5G connections. Full-fledged nationwide 5G service is still more than a year away, but last week New York-based Verizon Communications started the first 5G mobile phone service in parts of Minneapolis and Chicago.
Pai said in a statement that the auction will begin Dec. 10 and offer the broadest set of frequencies yet for 5G use.
The airwaves to be sold are in frequency bands known as the upper 37 GHz, or gigahertz, the 39 GHz and 47 GHz. Two other swaths are being sold in a set of auctions nearing their conclusion, and the FCC is contemplating a request from satellite-service providers Intelsat SA and SES SA to sell part of their airwaves holdings for 5G use.
Pai was scheduled to participate in an event at the White House highlighting steps toward 5G on Friday.
The $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will connect as many as 4 million homes over the next decade, Pai said. The money will come from existing subsidy programs run by the FCC. Lawmakers from poorly-connected farm states have become increasingly insistent on catching up to more-populated areas.
Pai criticized ideas such as a draft proposal from the White House for an expanded government role in telecommunications networks.
“I strongly believe that the market, not government, is best positioned to drive innovation and investment in wireless technologies,” he said. “I think that’s the right model for 5G as well.”
President Donald Trump’s administration last year roiled communications policy with a proposal urging heavy federal involvement in the next generation of fast mobile networks, raising objections about taking over what has been a privately led effort. A formal plan didn’t emerge.
Trump in October ordered a national spectrum policy that will increase access to airwaves for all users.
“I’m confident that he understands that American leadership in 5G is critical, and that the market-based approach is the right one to promote innovation and investment,” Pai said.
The FCC is considering banning the use of U.S. subsidies for equipment from providers such as China-based Huawei Technologies Co. that are deemed a national security risk. Pai said consideration is “ongoing” without offering a deadline for a decision.
“We want to make sure that the security of these networks, especially these next-generation 5G networks, is maintained,” Pai said.
Huawei has repeatedly denied it poses a risk, even as U.S. officials say the Shenzhen-based company may be obligated by law to cooperate with Chinese security services. The Trump administration has pressed allies to keep Huawei gear out of their networks.