Future spectrum auctions in the US could be put on hold indefinitely if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can’t find a way to comply with a law related to how upfront payments from bidders are held.

During a recent hearing before the House of Representatives’ energy and commerce committee, FCC chairman Ajit Pai (pictured) explained the commission currently has no means of obeying a law which states upfront payments from auction bidders must be held in interest-bearing accounts.

The FCC lacks the ability because “recent regulatory requirements have dissuaded private institutions” from opening special accounts to hold the payments. As a result, Pai said the commission cannot follow the law, and thus cannot move ahead with any large spectrum auction – including mid- and high-band auctions expected ahead of 5G deployments – until the issue is resolved.

A fix proposed by Pai would allow the bidder deposits to be held by the US Treasury, rather than at a bank or the Federal Reserve. A provision to such effect was included in a draft version of an FCC reauthorisation bill recently approved by the House of Representatives’ communications and technology subcommittee. However, the bill still needs to clear the energy and commerce committee before being considered by the House as a whole. The Senate and President would also need to approve the measure before it becomes law.

As reported by Roll Call, energy and commerce committee chairman Greg Walden refused to give a definitive timeline for action, but indicated the committee is planning to “move forward on a pretty expeditious timeline” with the FCC bill.

The FCC wrapped up its most recent spectrum auction earlier this year. The proceeding, which divvied up 600MHz airwaves made available by broadcasters, netted $19.8 billion in winning bids from mobile operators.