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Rep. Eshoo says guard bands can be used for wireless devices to save spectrum

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), a ranking member of the House Communications Subcommittee, has challenged a statement by Republican FCC commissioner Ajit Pai that suggests Congress intended for guard bands from broadcast spectrum to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Eshoo, who was involved in writing the new law, said Congress specifically gave the FCC the discretion to use the guard bands — or “white spaces” — for unlicensed devices, rather than auction them off.

The guard bands will be made available after the repacking of channels for television stations. Eshoo, who represents Silicon Valley interests, supports using the spectrum for unlicensed devices.

Last month, the FCC voted on a proposed framework for auctioning broadcast spectrum. In his statement on the vote, Pai said that while the FCC proposal assumes that the guard bands don’t need to be licensed and auctioned, he was not clear about the meaning of the legislation. He then speculated about various scenarios.

“Could we license the guard bands and auction it to a band manager for unlicensed use?” Pai asked. “If we must comply with a license-and-auction requirement, are there other means to encourage flexible unlicensed use of the guard bands?”

Eshoo said she was certain that the law allows for unlicensed devices to be either primary or secondary users of those guard bands, “contrary to his assertion ...”

“With a nationwide block of spectrum dedicated for unlicensed innovation as Congress envisioned,” she wrote in a letter to Pai, “the opportunities to support key sectors of the U.S. economy, including healthcare, education and energy are limitless.”

Pai’s office said he supports unlicensed use of the guard bands, but he was asking questions up front to make sure the FCC’s handling of the legislation conforms to congressional intent.