House 5 GHz Wi-Fi Bill Introduced

A quartet of House members have introduced a bill that would increase access to Wi-Fi spectrum cable operators are using to blanket the country with hot spots. Cable operators support the bill. Automakers not so much.

The Wi-Fi Innovation Act would direct the FCC to conduct tests in 5 GHz band to "determine if spectrum can be shared without interfering with current users." It would also "acknowledge ongoing efforts related to the development of critical safety applications in vehicles and other intelligent transportation initiatives," which share that band, and "create a study to examine the barriers to Wi-Fi deployment in low-income areas."

Automaker incumbents in the 5 GHz band are worried that allowing wider unlicensed use threatens interference to car-to-car communications and crash-avoidance systems just coming into their own. Cable operators have argued that the two can coexist without dangerous interference.

“While we support efforts to make better use of the nation’s airwaves and recognize the cable industry's interest in gaining access to the 5.9 GHz band," said Intelligent Transportation Society of America president Scott Belcher, "I cannot think of a more appropriate, innovative and important use of spectrum than saving tens of thousands of lives each year and reducing the nearly $1 trillion cost of crashes and congestion to American families and our nation’s economy.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced a similar bill last month.

Belcher pointed out that after that bill was introduced, Department of Transportation assistant secretary Gregory Winfree had testified that DOT had serious concerns about spectrum sharing that could delay access or preempt safety applications and said he did not currently know of any interference-free options.

“ITS America supports the collaborative effort, which is already underway, to explore whether a technical solution exists that would allow Wi-Fi devices to operate in the 5.9 GHz band without interfering with these critical safety applications," said Belcher. And while he did not target the following directly at either the House or Senate bill, the message was clear: "[T]his process should be allowed to proceed without arbitrary deadlines, restrictive parameters or political pressure that could influence the outcome.”

Introducing the House bill were Communications Subcommittee chairman Bob Latta (R-Ohio), House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Communications and Technology Subcommittee ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Communications Subcommittee member Doris Matsui (D-Calif.).

“For three decades unlicensed spectrum has been the invisible backbone to myriad wireless technologies, ranging from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to garage doors and cordless phones," said Eshoo in a statement. "But in order to unlock the next generation of wireless technology we need to optimize our finite amount of available spectrum.” 

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association supports the House bill as well as the Senate, said a spokesman, adding the association would have more to say later.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.