Lawmakers Reintroduce Bills to Hasten Spectrum Sharing

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By Brandon Ross

Feb. 10 — Lawmakers reintroduced a pair of bills that would require the Federal Communications Commission to take steps to increase spectrum sharing.

The Wi-Fi Innovation Act was reintroduced Feb. 10 in the Senate by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and in the House by Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio). In the House, the bill was cosponsored by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash).

The bill would require the FCC to open up the 5850 to 5925 MHz (megahertz) part of the 5 gigahertz spectrum band to testing for unlicensed use. In the previous session of Congress, automakers, who already have licenses to operate in the 5 Ghz band, said that unlicensed use of the band could interfere with intelligent transportation systems, including vehicle safety and traffic information.

The Rural Spectrum Accessibility Act of 2015 (S. 417) reintroduced in the Senate Feb. 9, would extend wireless carriers’ spectrum licenses by three years to encourage them to lease spectrum to smaller, rural carriers. The measure was reintroduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.).

The Wi-Fi Innovation Act was originally introduced in June 2014 in the Senate and July 2014 in the House. The Rural Spectrum Accessibility Act was originally introduced in November 2013.

In the Senate, the bills did not make it past referral to their respective committees. In the House, the Wi-Fi Innovation Act was referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

Wi-Fi Innovation 

“As more and more technologies utilize Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet, the need for increased wireless spectrum grows,” Latta said in a Feb. 10 press release. “The Wi-Fi Innovation Act examines ways to maximize spectrum use by efficiently expanding the deployment of wireless networks and services, so everyone can benefit from next-generation technologies.”

Eshoo noted the bill's bicameral, bipartisan support.

“We’ve only scratched the surface in optimizing this finite resource,” Eshoo said, also in the same Feb. 10 statement. “To fully realize its potential, the bipartisan, bicameral Wi-Fi Innovation Act directs the FCC to study how spectrum can be shared and utilized in innovative ways. From offloading mobile data traffic onto Wi-Fi networks to using unlicensed spectrum as a digital sandbox for wireless R&D, the economic benefits are enormous and the technological discovery untold.”

Rural Spectrum Accessibility 

“The goal of the legislation is to make unused spectrum—the airwaves we use for wireless communications services—more easily available for use in rural communities,” Fischer said in a Feb. 9 statement. “The Rural Spectrum Accessibility Act would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a program that would provide a 3-year extension of the spectrum license to wireless carriers that lease unused spectrum to rural and smaller carriers, encouraging collaboration between companies to bridge service gaps in rural areas.”

Industry and Consumer Advocate Support 

The Wi-Fi Innovation Act drew praise from the wireless industry, as well as from consumer advocates.

“From smart homes and unmanned systems to streaming content and wearables, many of today’s consumer technology innovations are mobile-first, connected to the Web and to one another,” Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive officer of the Consumer Electronics Association, said in a Feb. 10 statement. “The study initiated by this legislation should empower the FCC to explore putting even more of this spectrum to use for faster Wi-Fi.”

Consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge was positive about the bill as well.

“The legislation also seeks to increase innovation and economic progress by establishing a study to examine Wi-Fi deployment in low-income communities,” Public Knowledge said in a Feb. 10 statement.

The wireless industry also expressed support for the rural spectrum bill.

“Wireless is a capital intensive business and smaller carriers, due to challenges including the lack of access to devices and commercially reasonable roaming, often struggle to deploy a network in the same time as larger carriers,” Steven K. Berry, president and CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association, said in a Feb. 10 e-mail to Bloomberg BNA. “While carriers should not be allowed to warehouse spectrum, extending the license term allows smaller carriers that are interested in providing service in rural areas opportunities to access spectrum without risking potentially harmful consequences related to build-out or other license requirements.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Ross in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at

The full text of the Wi-Fi Innovation Act is available at$File/rubio.pdf.

The full text of the Rural Spectrum Accessibility Act is available here: