By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will vote in July on whether to auction a key band of largely unused 2.5 GHz spectrum to help advance next-generation 5G wireless networks and scrap requirements that it be used for education, the agency said on Tuesday.
The FCC in May 2018 voted to consider releasing additional key 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum reserved in the 1960s for what is now known as the Educational Broadband Service.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement the proposal would give existing users more flexibility in how they use the spectrum. "Valuable mid-band spectrum available for new mobile services will allow for more efficient and effective use of these airwaves and will advance U.S. leadership in 5G," he added.
Pai said last year the FCC was seeking to ensure that existing users would retain spectrum, give some entities a chance to obtain new licenses "and then auctioning off the remaining white spaces." Reuters reported the auction plans earlier on Tuesday.
Sprint Corp uses leased spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band in its existing 4G network and 5G network that it is being rolled out. That spectrum is a key part of Sprint and T-Mobile US Inc's proposed $26 billion tie-up and 5G plan, and is not directly affected by the auction, FCC officials said.
The U.S. Education Department in a June 7 letter told the FCC it should maintain an "educational use requirement" for that spectrum and suggested setting aside revenue from license sales to help students who lack the internet access required to do their homework.
The FCC proposal would remove that educational requirement, officials told reporters on a conference call. It did not provide an auction timetable but said the proposal would establish a "competitive bidding window." Several FCC auctions are planned this year, the agency added.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr last year noted that the 2.5 GHz band is unused in about half the country, and more than 90% of the licenses held by educational institutions are leased to other entities.
Carr said those arrangements show "many educational institutions have contracted with those providers so that each can focus on what it does best: the former can educate
students, and the latter can build wireless networks."
The FCC also plans to vote next month on revising its children's television programming rules, it said in a statement.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Richard Chang)