FCC's Rosenworcel pushes for more spectrum for Wi-Fi, unlicensed use

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel renewed her call for the FCC to free up more spectrum for unlicensed used and Wi-Fi, something that has been a perennial concern of hers.

In a speech at the State of the Net Conference in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Rosenworcel noted that last year the FCC freed up to 100 MHz of spectrum in the 5 GHz band for unlicensed use. "Next year, the FCC has an opportunity to bring more unlicensed spectrum to market through the smart use of guard bands in the 600 MHz band," she said. "So we need to follow through--and do it."

6 MHz guard bands are expected to be created as part of the FCC's incentive auction of 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum, set to begin in early 2016. Companies such as Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) have been asking the FCC to set aside those guard bands for unlicensed use.

Rosenworcel also said Congress needs to rethink how it accounts for airwaves. "Traditionally the legislative process has overlooked the value of unlicensed spectrum and favored licensed spectrum," she said. "This is not because of some rancorous partisan divide. It's not because of some unsavory battle between industries. No, it's because when the non-partisan staff at the Congressional Budget Office do their job, they assign value to spectrum when it is licensed and sold at auction. So bills that direct the FCC to sell licensed spectrum get high grades, while legislation that creates more spectrum for Wi-Fi gets low marks. This accounting method is outdated."

She said the CBO's accounting method for assigning value to spectrum fails to take into account the more than $140 billion in economic activity unlicensed spectrum creates each year. Thus, she thinks it's "time to develop a multiplier that accounts for the billions of dollars of activity that new unlicensed spectrum can generate in the economy. Because making small accounting changes could be the ticket--to bigger Wi-Fi opportunities in the future."

Notably, she also said "we will not tolerate malicious or willful interference with Wi-Fi." Rosenworcel noted that a handful of hotel chains have banded together and asked the FCC "to bless their ability to block hotel guests from using their own Wi-Fi connections under the guise of network security concerns." She called for her FCC colleagues to dismiss the petition.

Shortly after Rosenworcel spoke, the FCC did not dismiss the petition but it certainly made its position clear. A strongly worded advisory from the FCC indicated the commission will not tolerate any form of Wi-Fi blocking, whether it's in hotels, conference centers or some other commercial establishment. The advisory came after Marriott International was fined $600,000 last year for blocking Wi-Fi at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville. The hotel chain said that it had used FCC-authorized equipment and through a separate filing, it sought clarity from the FCC on what Wi-Fi network management tools it could use in the future.

Marriott issued a statement Jan. 14 saying that it listens to its customers and would not block guests from using their personal Wi-Fi devices at any of its managed hotels.

For more:
- see the text of Rosenworcel's speech
- see this FierceWirelessTech article

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