A revived and bi-partisan supported Wi-Fi Innovation Act has been introduced this week by U.S. Senators and is backed by U.S. House members with a companion bill of their own.
The legislation, originally pitched last summer, urges the FCC to test the feasibility of opening up spectrum at the higher end of the 5GHz band (5850-5925) for unlicensed Wi-Fi use. Cable and other tech companies are all for this, while automakers and their partners are opposed, citing possible interference with car safety systems they are becoming more mainstream.
The S.424 legislation comes courtesy of Senators Marco Rubio (R.-Fla.) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) put forth companion legislation, co-sponsored by Darrell Issa (R-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Suzan DelBene (D-WA).
Rubio stated: ""America's policies must adapt to the colossal technological advancements that are defining the 21stcentury and transforming the very nature of the American economy. The Wi-Fi Innovation Act would bolster innovation, spur economic development, and increase connectivity by providing more spectrum to the public."
The new legislation quickly triggered a flood of reactions from industry groups articulating the obligatory hyperbole about what the Act could mean:
*The Wireless Innovation Alliance, whose members include Dell, Google and Microsoft, said: "This bipartisan effort to open up additional unlicensed spectrum demonstrates that many in the 114th Congress truly understand the crucial role unlicensed spectrum plays both in our nation's wireless future and as a vital economic driver."
*The Telecommunications Industry Association, whose members include Apple, Brocade, Cisco and VMware, said: "The U.S. is in vital need of more spectrum in order to meet unprecedented and growing demand for video, data, Wi-Fi connectivity and more. The Innovation Act identifies meaningful steps to help alleviate the spectrum crunch that threatens the advancement of global communications. TIA supports efforts to work towards a workable spectrum sharing solution for the 5.9 GHz band, and agrees that sharing proposals need to be thoroughly tested, leading to the creation of a record that can be the basis for regulatory action."
*WifiForward, whose members include Best Buy, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, stated in part: "We applaud this bipartisan move to improve consumers' access to the Internet and make underutilized parts of the 5 GHz frequency band available for Wi-Fi, which most of us use every day to get online. This bill reflects necessary Congressional leadership advancing balanced, evidence-based spectrum policies... WifiForward studies have found that unlicensed spectrum generates $222 billion in economic value and contributed $6.7 billion to US GDP in 2013, is set to add 547.2 billion and 49.7 billion to GDP by 2017."
"ITS America -- The High Tech Transportation Association countered the above: "We are on the cusp of a revolution in vehicle safety that will save thousands of lives each year and dramatically reduce the nearly $1 trillion cost of traffic crashes and congestion to families, communities and the nation's economy. Experts from the automotive, Wi-Fi and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) industries are working together to explore whether a spectrum sharing technology can be developed to allow Wi-Fi devices to operate in the same 5.9 GHz band set aside by the FCC for ITS safety systems without delaying time-critical communications needed to prevent crashes. This collaborative process should continue without Congressionally-imposed deadlines, restrictive parameters or political pressure that creates regulatory uncertainty and could delay bringing these life-saving crash prevention technologies to consumers."
This tech transportation group said it is backed by AAA and others who oppose the proposed legislation, which has surfaced amidst a push by the Obama administration for more broadband capacity to be made available.