Biden Pick for Commerce Chief Calls for U.S. 5G Airwaves Policy

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, nominated for secretary of the Commerce Department, told senators at a confirmation hearing Tuesday that the U.S. needs to step back and devise a national spectrum strategy.

“The race is on for 5G. I want America to win and lead, and that requires spectrum,” Raimondo said. “What we need to do is -- and the president has been clear -- is to step back and have a national strategy on spectrum, and look to make spectrum available from public and commercial uses.”

The call from President Joe Biden’s nominee follows years of disarray among federal agencies around parceling out U.S. airwaves as fast, transformative 5G communications arrive. During the administration of President Donald Trump, agencies frequently were at loggerheads over assigning airwaves, as industries jostled for prime frequencies needed to serve new applications.

“We are heading into our wireless future with something less than a fully coordinated effort,” FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in October, when she was in the Democratic minority. “We don’t have a national strategy in place for 5G -- and we badly need one.”

Under its Republican Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC was in disagreement on airwaves policy with the Pentagon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as the departments of Transportation and Energy.

The agencies warned that his plans to reallocate spectrum would endanger national security, harm weather forecasts, loosen control of the electrical grid and degrade vehicle safety. Pai, who stepped down last week, said he was making way for new uses, and challenging existing industries that don’t need all the airwaves assigned in some cases decades ago.

Rosenworcel in October said that “different parts of our government are pulling in different directions when it comes to spectrum policy. We’ve had too many noisy disputes to count.”

Raimondo said it’s important to have a strong National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The Commerce Department arm that coordinates federal airwaves uses was plagued by leadership changes during the Trump administration.

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