T-Mobile US stood to gain access to 2.5GHz spectrum it won in a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction in 2022, following a vote by the US House of Representatives on 11 December to pass the 5G Spectrum Authority Licensing Enforcement (SALE) Act.

The operator committed $304 million to buy 7,156 2.5GHz spectrum licences to augment its 5G network, mainly across rural areas. AT&T and Verizon did not submit bids.

Non-profit North American Catholic Educational Programming Foundation won the second-largest number of licences with 107, followed by Evergy Kansas Central (54), LICT Wireless Broadband Company (46) and Broadband One of the Midwest (42).

Despite paying for them, T-Mobile and the other auction winners have been unable to access their licences after the US Congress failed to renew the FCC’s authority to conduct spectrum auctions or issue permits earlier this year.

The lack of agreement among politicians meant the FCC lost authority over auctions granted almost 30 years ago. The act is a stopgap to grant the regulator temporary authority to complete spectrum transfers.

Rural gains
US Representative John Joyce, the bill’s sponsor, stated the act would bolster 5G network coverage in rural areas.

Tony Russo, VP of legislative affairs at T-Mobile, posted on X that the passing of the act was a “big win for US consumers” and the spectrum would allow it “to connect millions of Americans to high-speed internet”.

T-Mobile has made inroads into rural and underserved areas with its fixed wireless access (FWA) broadband service, often at the expense of cable operators.

It will be able to extend the reach of FWA using the 2.5GHz spectrum.

The US Senate passed the legislation in September: it still needs to be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

In a statement, Competitive Carriers Association president and CEO Tim Donovan expressed hope “this momentum will carry into Congress fully reinstating FCC spectrum auction authority”.

“This action is a positive step toward improving 5G connectivity and maintaining US leadership in innovation for all businesses and consumers.”