Wi-Fi push grows in House

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers wants to make more space for Wi-Fi.

Four legislators are introducing a companion bill to a Senate effort that would call for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to study how certain bands of the nation’s airwaves can be set aside for wireless machines like tablets and laptops, as well as garage door openers and other devices.

Together, lawmakers say they want to clear the way for future technologies.

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“From personal communication to transportation, healthcare and beyond, wireless technologies are changing and improving our lives,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) in a statement. “The Wi-Fi Innovation Act will make available the spectrum necessary to support the best new inventions and the jobs and prosperity these new discoveries will foster.”

Issa was joined on the bill by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.).

The House version of the Wi-Fi Innovation Act follows a bill introduced in the Senate by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) last month. 

Wi-Fi devices operate on unlicensed bands of the spectrum, as opposed to airwaves that are specifically licensed to wireless companies like AT&T or Verizon.

The growth of tablets, computers and smartphones has led to new demands on that spectrum, however, which lawmakers say need to be confronted. According to one estimate, the economic impact of unlicensed spectrum added up to $200 billion last year.

“Wi-Fi is already an integral part of our everyday lives; we must meet current demand and put in place a plan to meet growing needs,” Matsui said.

The lawmakers’ bill would require the FCC to do more to see if airwaves in the 5 GHz spectrum band, which is currently slotted for use by “smart” cars to communicate with each other, can be shared with other devices.

Wireless and tech companies have greeted the effort warmly, but some transportation firms have worried about the pace of action.

More advanced cars and trucks can prevent countless crashes and save tens of thousands of lives on the road, advocates of the industry say.

Scott Belcher, head of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, said his group supports “efforts to make better use of the nation’s airwaves,” but that efforts to explore spectrum-sharing should  “be allowed to proceed without arbitrary deadlines, restrictive parameters or political pressure that could influence the outcome.”