Sens. Snowe and Warner want WiFi in all federal buildings

Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) introduced legislation on Friday that would require all public federal buildings to install WiFi base stations in order to free up cell phone networks.


The Federal Wi-Net Act would mandate the installation of small WiFi base stations in all publicly accessible federal buildings in order to increase wireless coverage and free up mobile networks. The bill would require all new buildings under construction to comply and all older buildings to be retrofitted by 2014. It also orders $15 million from the Federal Buildings Fund be allocated to fund the installations.

“I see a great opportunity to leverage federal buildings in order to improve wireless broadband coverage at a very reasonable cost," Warner said. "By starting with the nearly 9,000 federal buildings owned or operated by the General Services Administration, we will be able to provide appreciable improvement in wireless coverage for consumers while also reducing some of the pressure on existing wireless broadband networks."

The bill is aimed at preventing dropped calls that occur indoors and in rural areas due to poor cell phone coverage, while also hopefully boosting wireless network capacity by more effectively deploying broadband wireless networks. The bill is also an acknowledgement of the crucial role that cell phones and smartphones such as BlackBerrys play in the daily routine of federal workers.

“With over 276 million wireless subscribers across our nation and growing demand for wireless broadband, it is imperative that we take steps to improve wireless communication capacity, and this legislation will make measurable progress towards that goal,” said Snowe. “Given that approximately 60 percent of mobile Internet use and 40 percent of cell phone calls are completed indoors, utilizing technologies such as Wi-Fi and femtocells will dramatically improve coverage.”

The Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan argues most smartphones sold today have Wi-Fi capabilities, so installing mini-base stations and Wi-Fi hotspots in federal buildings would improve indoor cell phone coverage and increase wireless network capacity.