MOBILE NOW Act Clears Committee: More 5G Spectrum & Infrastructure Streamlining On Tap


The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee recently approved the MOBILE NOW Act (S. 19 (the “Act”)), which will, among other things, release at least 255 MHz of federal and non-federal spectrum for commercial use, and streamline the application and permitting process for building broadband infrastructure on federal lands.   Co-sponsor, Senator John Thune (R-SD), said that he expects the full Senate to take up the Act very soon.

The Act, which has strong bipartisan support is, according to Senator Thune, “an early technology priority [that will be] a gateway to faster and more extensive wireless coverage that empowers more Americans to use technologies requiring a connection to the Internet.”  With that goal of fostering 5G deployment, the Act features the following highlights:

Making More 5G Spectrum Available

In an attempt to meet the goal expressed in a 2010 executive order to make 500 MHz of spectrum available for 5G commercial use, the Act requires the Department of Commerce (“DoC”), by the end of 2020, to make at least 255 MHz of federal and non-federal spectrum below the 6,000 MHz band commercially available.  Of that, at least 100 MHz must be made available on an unlicensed basis.

Acknowledging that millimeter wave spectrum (spectrum band between 30 GHz and 300 GHz) is an important part of high-speed 5G communications, the Act requires DoC and the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to conduct feasibility studies regarding advanced wireless commercial use of three millimeter wave spectrum bands:  31,000-33,400 MHz, 71,000-76,000 MHZ, and 81,000-86,000 MHz.  The feasibility study will be conducted within 18 months of the Act’s passage.  A similar feasibility study for certain 3 GHz spectrum bands will also be required.

Streamlining Broadband Infrastructure

Because reliable 5G wireless services will depend on the deployment and densification of facilities such as small cells and distributed antenna systems (“DAS”), the Act streamlines the procedures for 5G entities to apply for and receive grants of easements, rights-of-way, or leases on federal government property.

Pertinent measures include:

1.  limiting fees to amounts directly related to cost recovery (with narrow public interest exceptions
pertaining to expanding wireless broadband coverage);
2.  a 270 day “shot clock” for granting or denying an application; and
3.  if an application is denied, the agency in charge must provide the applicant with a detailed
explanation of the reason for the denial.

The Act also tasks a number of federal agencies with developing infrastructure streamlining recommendations, including:

1.  procedures for tracking applications;
2.  methods to reduce application processing times; and
3.  policies to expedite renewals of easements, permits, and leases.

Dig Once

The Act encourages federal and state agencies to adopt “dig once” policies.   Dig once refers to policies wherein a single conduit through which broadband wires can be run should be dug at the same time as other below-ground infrastructure work such as highway construction is undertaken.  Specifically, the Act requires state and federal transportation departments to:

1.  appoint broadband utility coordinators to oversee the coordination of broadband infrastructure
right-of-way needs with state and federal-aid highway projects;
2.  establish a process for registering broadband infrastructure entities that seek to be included in
the infrastructure right-of-way coordination efforts;
3.  coordinate initiatives with other broadband, telecommunications, land use, and transportation
plans; and
4.  develop strategies to minimize repeated excavations involving broadband infrastructure
installation in public rights-of-way.

The MOBILE NOW Act is yet another example of the federal government’s efforts to expedite the deployment of wireless broadband.  There are, for example, current proceedings at the FCC and DoC  wherein those agencies are seeking public comment on proposed 5G infrastructure policies.   Any stakeholder that wishes to influence how such regulations will be implemented should consider participating in one of these proceedings.

The CommLaw Group  has specialists that are available to answer any questions you may have regarding broadband infrastructure issues and pertinent regulatory proceedings  We deal regularly with applicable regulatory agencies and can assist you with various legal and compliance matters.

IoT Attorney Ronald E. Quirk, is head of the Internet of Things & Connected Devices Practice Group  at Marashlian & Donahue PLLC, The CommLaw Group, where he focuses his practice on the serving the comprehensive needs of the burgeoning and complex Internet of Things industry, including: contracts and commercial law, privacy & cybersecurity, spectrum access, equipment authorization, tax, regulatory compliance planning, and more.  His career has spanned more than 20 years, including several years at AMLAW 100 firms and the FCC.  He can be reached at or (703) 714-1305

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