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Wifi Forward: More Unlicensed A Must for ConnectED

Wifi Forward says the FCC needs to free up more unlicensed wireless if the Obama Administration's ConnectED goals of getting WiFi to every classroom and high-speed Internet to 99% of students is to be met.

In a paper presented Wednesday, the group said that educators needed to get behind the following recommendations: Getting gigabit WiFi access to more unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band; FCC action to free up more spectrum in the 600 MHz broadcast bands--soon to be broadcast/wireless bands; and "reasonable rules" for spectrum sharing in the 3.5 GHz band.

Wifi Forward is a broad-based coalition whose members include the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Microsoft, the Consumer Electronics Association,  Motorola and Google. Cable ops have increasingly seen WiFi as their mobile broadband play, with hundreds of thousands of hot spots allowing their subs broadband access on the go.

Broadcasters have been pushing back on an FCC effort to free up more unlicensed spectrum in the 600 MHz band as part of the incentive auction framework, arguing it risks adding increased interference to the dislocation of the auction repacking regime.

"[D]emand is likely to outstrip supply of unlicensed spectrum in the near future, causing congestion on local school networks," Wifi Forward said. "If the Obama Administration’s ConnectED goals are met, K-12 schools are expected to demand around 56 terabits per second (Tbps) by the 2017-2018 school year – 6 times larger than the current capacity of the ultra-high speed research and education network, Internet2."

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed revamping and increasing the E-rate schools and libraries subsidy to focus more on high-speed deployment and wireless connectivity, rather than simply access to broadband.

The White House has also said that effort is essential to the ConnectED goals 

The FCC is scheduled to vote on the E-rate proposal at its Dec. 11 meeting.