Defense Department would bypass usual auction process for airwaves; AT&T CEO visited White House to argue against it.
Two federal agencies are moving forward with conflicting plans to commercialize a valuable chunk of wireless spectrum controlled by the Defense Department, leaving the future of an asset worth tens of billions of dollars in doubt.
The Pentagon is drafting a request for proposals for a new fifth-generation military cellular network that would lease its extra capacity to private-sector users like cellphone carriers, auto makers and factories, according to people familiar with the plan. This RFP includes more specific requirements than a separate request for information released last month and could go public before the Nov. 3 election, the people said.
At the same time, the Federal Communications Commission, the independent agency in charge of licensing airwaves to the private sector, is pursuing a plan to auction some of the same Pentagon-controlled band late next year.
The military currently uses the spectrum for radar and aviation, but the same frequencies are ideal for the ultrafast 5G signals commercial operators are working to deploy.