Rubio Introduces WiFi Bill

As he promised, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has introduced a bill to free up more unlicensed wireless spectrum in the 5 GHz band, which is just fine with cable operators who have been pushing for more of the unlicensed spectrum that powers their WiFi mobile broadband business.

Rubio teamed with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to introduce the WiFi Innovation Act, the second of three bills he is introducing as part of an overall wireless broadband plan he outlined last week.

On June 11, Rubio outlined an ambitious agenda for spectrum reform, which includes the three bills: The Wireless Innovation Act (which was introduced June 12) to free up government spectrum; the WiFi Innovation Act directing the FCC to conduct tests in the upper 5 GHz band and modify the rules to allow WiFi so long as it doesn’t create harmful interference with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications; and a bill to promote wireless infrastructure.

According to Rubio's office, the new WiFi bill does the following:

1. "Directs the FCC to move swiftly in seeking comments and conducting testing to assess the feasibility of opening the 5850-5925 band to unlicensed use.

2. "Recognizes the need to balance the importance of developing Intelligent Transportation and incumbent licensees in the 5 GHz band, while also maximizing the use of the band for shared purposes.

3. "Establishes a study to examine WiFi deployment in low-income communities and the barriers preventing deployment of wireless networks in low-income neighborhoods. The FCC will also evaluate incentives and policies that could increase the availability of unlicensed spectrum in low-income neighborhoods to increase adoption in the communities."

“This bill requires the FCC to conduct testing that would provide more spectrum to the public and ultimately put the resource to better use, while recognizing the future needs and important work being done in intelligent transportation," said Rubio. "I am pleased that Senator Booker has joined me in this effort to foster the innovation and economic growth needed to make this century another American century.”

Automaker incumbents in the 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. Comcast, one of those pushing for expanding use of the upper 5 GHz band where intelligent auto systems reside, praised the legislation.

"The bill reflects a bipartisan consensus on the importance of the upper portion of the 5 GHz band for meeting consumers’ skyrocketing demand for mobile broadband services," blogged David Don, VP, regulatory policy. He said it takes "a practical and evidence-based approach to meeting consumer WiFi demand while protecting incumbent users."

The FCC earlier this year freed up unlicensed spectrum in the lower part of the band, and signaled it wants to do so in the upper, so long as it does not interfere with incumbents. That is the comment the bill tries to speed up.

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.