Op eds

This op-ed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) first appeared in the Bossier Press-Tribune on Feb. 3, 2021. 

If you discovered someone had been squatting in your house for years, you would probably be shocked if he demanded a large payment before he would move out.

But that is exactly what some foreign satellite companies recently demanded of U.S. taxpayers. For years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allowed foreign companies to use America’s C-band spectrum—a range of radio waves well suited for 5G technology—free of cost.

Unfortunately, and predictably, the foreign operators became too comfy with the arrangement.

The FCC rightly wanted to take back control of the C-band from these foreign firms in order to develop America’s next-generation 5G network. After all, the FCC had only given the overseas companies a temporary license to use the spectrum, and the C-band is an American resource.

In fact, the C-band is a “sweet spot” for moving lots of information at a fast pace. We should use that resource to benefit American taxpayers and create a new wave of American jobs.

European companies did not see it that way. In order to return C-band use to its rightful owners—Americans and American companies—the foreign CEOs wanted a bailout worth tens of billions of dollars from American taxpayers. (One of these satellite CEOs is now being accused of insider trading related to the C-Band deal.)

Not only was the FCC considering caving to their ransom demand, but it also planned to turn around and sell the C-band space in a closed-door deal. A private spectrum sale would keep American taxpayers in the dark and drastically minimize revenue from such a sale. That would bring in less money to fund domestic priorities like building out rural broadband—which is also the FCC’s job.

Louisianians are depending on the FCC to help bridge the digital divide. Without broadband access, many parts of our great state, especially rural areas, will remain cut off from good paying jobs, education, and health care resources.

The ongoing pandemic has shown us how essential high-speed internet is to Louisiana’s success, and even survival, in the global economy. We need every penny we can find to deploy broadband throughout rural America. So, there’s no room for backroom deals with billion dollar companies—especially foreign ones—that shortchange the American taxpayer.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government has oversight over the FCC. As its chairman, I couldn’t let bureaucrats pull a fast one that puts big companies ahead of everyday Americans. I questioned the FCC’s plan for private sales and overseas payouts in committee hearings and told President Trump that the only fair option was a transparent, public auction of the C-band.

Thankfully, demanding transparency and putting Americans first finally won the day. The FCC reversed course in favor of American taxpayers. It denied the foreign satellite companies their massive ransom demands. 

The FCC also abandoned its planned private sale and held a public auction in the light of day. The public auction won more than $80 billion for taxpayers to invest in American priorities— making it the most profitable FCC auction in history.

Imagine how much of this money the FCC would have forfeited in a closed-door deal! Around 400,000 Louisianians do not have access to high-speed internet, and $80 billion can go a long way towards serving them better.

Bottom line: American resources should not subsidize foreign companies. The C-band should create American jobs and serve American priorities.

The U.S. government is full of checks and balances, and we ultimately convinced the FCC to deal openly through a public auction instead of a private sale. Now, foreign companies will no longer get to stuff their four feet and snout in the trough at the expense of the American taxpayer or hardworking Louisianians.