Two senators have introduced legislation that could result in the Federal Communications Commission opening up more spectrum for Wi-Fi and other public uses, but at the expense of spectrum dedicated to communications between intelligent vehicles. The bipartisan legislation is being called the Wi-Fi Innovation Act and was introduced by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Cory Booker (D-NJ). The legislation directs the FCC to study the impact of opening up part of the 5 GHz band and to follow through with doing so should the commission find that it would be an improvement over its current use.
"Action must be taken to ensure spectrum is utilized effectively and efficiently."
The senators want the FCC to keep an eye toward whether opening the spectrum could allow Wi-Fi to bring internet access to low-income areas. However, it would also require that opening the spectrum didn't interfere with existing vehicle communications that were using it. "[Our] wireless devices rely on spectrum, a valuable and limited resource," Rubio says in a statement. "To meet the demands of our time, action must be taken to ensure spectrum is utilized effectively and efficiently." If the legislation is turned to law, it'll be about a year and a half later that the FCC would have to present the results of its findings.
As for vehicles, this spectrum is currently reserved to allow them to transmit information to each other and to roadside outposts. That certainly isn't being put into good use yet, though there's reason to believe that it will in the future. Still, until then, Rubio and Booker would rather see it open, where it can be widely used. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is in agreement, and it applauded the bill's introduction, saying that current uses of unlicensed spectrum generate $62 billion per year for the US economy.
"Unlicensed spectrum is the fuel that powers innovation," Gary Shapiro, the CEA's CEO, says in a statement. "The consumer electronics that rely most heavily on unlicensed spectrum – devices which include Bluetooth and radio frequency identification-enabled devices – have a cumulative annual growth rate of roughly 30 percent." By making the spectrum unlicensed, further options for connectivity would be able to open up, Wi-Fi or otherwise.
Reaction was cooler from the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, a trade group dedicated to vehicle communications. While it says in a statement that it supports calls for a study on the spectrum, it's skeptical that a solution exists that would allow vehicle communications to operate unhindered, which it views as critically important. If so, that could make Rubio and Booker's plans a nonstarter, but their hope is still that the public will ultimately be able to find a better use for it.