The information superhighway is getting more crowded by the minute and megabyte. As the use of smartphones and tablets grows exponentially, it’s going to take technological innovation to prevent gridlock.

Fortunately, a group of wireless providers has developed one piece of the solution. Known as LTE Unlicensed (LTE-U), this technology will be rolled out by T-Mobile, Verizon and other carriers next year.


Using the unlicensed part of the spectrum to supplement their existing networks, LTE-U is expected to greatly improve wireless broadband service, especially in crowded urban areas where heavy demand from data-hungry devices often parallels the congestion found on city streets, highways, bridges and tunnels.

For many years now, the unlicensed spectrum has been a wonderful incubator of innovation, giving birth to baby monitors, garage door openers, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi networks — and now, LTE-U. This newest breakthrough should — and we believe will — be welcomed by consumers with open arms, because it will increase their ability to access data wirelessly at higher speeds than ever and expand their options for doing so.

However, proving the adage that no good deed goes unpunished, some cable and Internet service provider companies are trying to get the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to intervene and block the adoption of LTE-U, claiming that it could crowd out existing Wi-Fi networks. We believe this would be a grievous error, and one contrary to the intent of Congress.

When we served together on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, even though we were on opposite sides of the aisle and differed on many issues, we agreed wholeheartedly that federal policy should not stifle innovation in wireless technology and should encourage competition and choice. Keeping a portion of the wireless spectrum unlicensed, and thus not subject to hands-on regulation, was a policy decision designed precisely to further these goals. And that’s why we represent T-Mobile in this debate — not because we side with one company over another, but because its cause is one we strongly advocated during our time in Congress.

For these reasons, we strongly urge the FCC to take a hands-off approach to the introduction of LTE-U.

We believe this technology will be a huge plus for consumers and will not cause the harm its opponents suggest. The evidence thus far suggests that LTE-U and Wi-Fi play well together. First, LTE-U has been designed to co-exist with Wi-Fi. It uses a channel sharing protocol, just not the same one as Wi-Fi. Second, testing confirms that LTE-U has a minimal impact on Wi-Fi. In fact, adding another Wi-Fi hot-spot creates more interference to Wi-Fi users than adding an LTE-U node. Third, the two would share only a portion of the unlicensed spectrum — many of the frequencies Wi-Fi uses would not also be used by LTE-U.

But the FCC need not take our word for it. Let LTE-U come onto the market and see the real world impact. If it works as its adopters suggest, we’ll all be better off for its introduction. If it doesn’t, the FCC can then step in and address whatever problems have emerged.

The potential upside of LTE-U is enormous. It could help give wireless customers more bang for their buck, alleviate the spectrum crunch, and inject sorely-needed competition into the broadband marketplace. On the other hand, the threat posed to Wi-Fi is minimal because LTE-U is only seeking to do now what Wi-Fi and Bluetooth once did: use the nation’s unlicensed spectrum in an inventive way that helps meets consumers’ growing and changing needs.

Rather than stifle innovation in the womb through unprecedented intervention in the unlicensed spectrum, the FCC should continue its longstanding policy and practice of letting competition and creativity work their magic.

Waxman served in the House from 1975 to 2015. Tauzin served in the House from 1980 to 2005. Each served as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.