Wi-Fi fetes victory in court’s 6 GHz ruling

While the appeals court denied the motions for an emergency stay, the court will continue to hear arguments challenging the FCC’s 6 GHz decision. (Getty Images)

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and a host of Wi-Fi stakeholders were jubilant Thursday after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied a request for a stay on the FCC’s decision to open up the 6 GHz band for unlicensed users.

AT&T, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials-International (APCO), utilities and others had sought a stay on the FCC’s order in the 6 GHz band. Wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon use the band for backhaul, while others use it to monitor the electric grid and other critical communications. They argued there aren’t enough protections for incumbents as 1,200 megahertz of the band is opened to new unlicensed users.

While the appeals court denied the motions for an emergency stay, the court will continue to hear arguments challenging the FCC’s decision. The court gave opponents of the FCC’s order 30 days to file a joint proposal for filing briefs in the case.

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WifiForward, which represents Google, Broadcom, Comcast, Charter Communications, Boingo Wireless, WISPA and others, called the court’s denial for a stay a “win” for consumers.

"The D.C. Circuit Court made the right decision and rejected a request to stay the FCC’s well-vetted 6 GHz order,” WifiForward said in a statement. “By opening the 6 GHz band, the FCC advanced innovation, investment, and faster broadband in a time when connectivity has never been more important. It’s a win for Wi-Fi and for consumers everywhere."

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The FCC chairman also called it great news for consumers who stand to benefit from Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E devices.

The Wi-Fi Alliance said it will continue to support the FCC in its effort to defend the benefits generated by affordable unlicensed connectivity that technologies like Wi-Fi will deliver in the 6 GHz band.

“In the midst of the national COVID-19 crisis when many Americans are relying on low-cost Wi-Fi for bandwidth intensive work, school, medicine and other accommodations, the FCC’s 6 GHz rules are critical to meet the growing demand for Wi‑Fi connectivity while at the same time protecting public safety and utility operations,” the Wi-Fi Alliance said in a statement.  

According to Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program, Open Technology Institute at New America, a stay was always a very unlikely scenario because it requires a court to find a likelihood that the party opposing the FCC will prevail on the merits. The commission should have little concern about the ultimate outcome of the litigation – federal courts have rarely if ever second-guessed the FCC’s technical expertise, he said.

“The court’s ruling is great news for the tens of millions of workers and students who may be learning and working from home well into next year,” Calabrese said in a statement. “For those with fixed broadband connections, the capacity of Wi-Fi is becoming the biggest constraint on high-capacity connectivity. If the FCC adopts the somewhat higher power level it is considering for indoor-only use, consumers and the economy will benefit from affordable and gigabit-fast Wi-Fi early next year.”