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FCC To Take Action To Avoid “Wi-Fi Wall”

LAS VEGAS — The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to open up additional wireless spectrum for unlicensed use to avoid the risk of running headlong into a “Wi-Fi wall,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Wednesday.

During a One On One session with CEA president Gary Shapiro, Genachowski said the commission plans to launch proceedings next month to set aside an additional 195MHz of bandwidth in the 5GHz band for Wi-Fi use, expanding the 5GHz Wi-Fi band by 35 percent.

The bandwidth is already in use by the Department of Defense and other federal agencies, but Genachowski contended, “We are convinced the spectrum can be shared.”

The additional spectrum would “relieve congestion and improve Wi-Fi speeds at conferences, airports and ultimately peoples’ homes,” Genachowski said.

 Planned auctions of TV-broadcast spectrum to create more licensed mobile broadband spectrum could also make more unlicensed spectrum available, he added. The auctions could free up more unused broadcast-spectrum “white space” to stitch together a nationwide contiguous block of white-space spectrum, he explained. That would contrast with current white-space allocations in which different frequencies are used in different parts of the country.

In other comments, Genachowski said he believes that “more [TV] broadcasters are taking a fresh look at this idea [of TV-spectrum auctions]” despite initial concerns.

“We need to do this for our country,” he said of the auctions, which would incentivize broadcasters to give up some or all of their assigned spectrum. In New York City, he said, “it doesn’t make sense” that 24 full-power TV stations are each using 6MHz of spectrum. Some of that spectrum is needed to support “the innovation economy,” he said.

 The FCC is asking for “new big ideas” and “creative proposals” in developing plans for the spectrum freed up by the planned auctions, Genachowski noted. In a world where wireless-data use is growing rapidly, for example, the freed-up spectrum might be more efficiently deployed by allocating relatively more spectrum for data downloads and relatively less on the uplink side, he said. In a voice-centric world, equal amounts of spectrum for the uplink and downlink made sense, he noted.

In other comments, he cited “two dangerous trends coming together” that could undermine Internet freedom and “balkanize” the Internet. One is the trend by authoritarian countries to censor the Internet because “open communications networks are a challenge for them,” he said

 The other is a move by Internet Service Providers outside the U.S., including ISPs in Europe, who “want to solve their business-model challenges by changing the model of the Internet,” he warned.

Early in the event, a heckler from the audience wouldn’t stop shouting questions at Genachowski and had to be escorted out of the conference hall by security.