House Lawmakers Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Increase Wi-Fi Access

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By Bryce Baschuk    

July 17 --Some House lawmakers have introduced legislation to push the Federal Communications Commission to help expand consumer access to unlicensed wireless networks.

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers sponsored the Wi-Fi Innovation Act (H.R. 5125) July 16 to direct the FCC to test the feasibility of spectrum sharing in the 5 GHz band without interfering with incumbent users.

The 5 GHz band, which is currently occupied by federal users and commercial groups exploring advanced transportation communications systems, is seen as fertile territory to help facilitate machine-to-machine communications.

The effort generally aims to balance the need for spectrum that helps intelligent automobiles prevent crashes with the rapidly growing spectrum demands of interconnected consumer devices like tablets and Wi-Fi thermostats.

Bipartisan, Bicameral Effort

“Demand for wireless spectrum is growing rapidly as smartphone and tablet users increasingly use Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet,” said Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), the lead sponsor of the bill. “The Wi-Fi Innovation Act paves a pathway to maximize the use of spectrum and examine ways to expand the deployment of wireless networks and services across the country, so all can benefit from this next-generation technology.”

The bill was co-sponsored by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

“Wi-Fi is already an integral part of our everyday lives; we must meet current demand and put in place a plan to meet growing needs,” Matsui said. “In order to unlock the next generation of wireless technology, we need to optimize our finite amount of available spectrum,” Eshoo said.

(H.R. 5125) builds upon legislation (S. 2505) introduced in the Senate last month by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

FCC Role

The FCC has a pivotal role in maximizing the benefits of unlicensed spectrum use in the 5 GHz band, while ensuring that the growing number of wireless devices using the band don't interfere with each other. The commission has targeted the 5 GHz band in recent years for unlicensed wireless use as a means to stave off the growing demand and congestion on Wi-Fi networks.

In March, the commission approved an order to free up 100 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum in the 5.1 GHz band for use by high-powered, outdoor Wi-Fi equipment . Last year, the agency proposed rules to make some unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum more usable and provide access to an additional 195 MHz of new unlicensed spectrum in the band .

Cable Wi-Fi Effort

The legislation may benefit cable companies that increasingly see the 5 GHz band as the foundation for nationwide wireless networks that might one day provide consumers with more choice in the wireless marketplace.

Companies such as Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable Inc., Cox Communications, Bright House Networks, and Cablevision Systems Corp. have spent the past several years activating more than 200,000 Wi-Fi hotspots in the U.S. .

Such a network of wireless connection points could help those companies compete against incumbent wireline and wireless broadband service providers like Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at bbaschuk@bna.com  

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com