FCC to Free Up More Spectrum for WiFi

Genachowski sits down with Gary Shapiro at CES

Trouble getting a good WiFi connection? Hang in there. Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski said the agency will begin a new proceeding next month to free up more spectrum for WiFi.

Genachowski made the announcement today during a one-on-one interview with Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association.

The initiative is expected to increase the amount of spectrum available for WiFi by 35 percent in places like airports and conferences when large numbers of people are accessing mobile networks at the same time.

“The focus has been on the mobile spectrum crunch. But there is also a WiFi traffic jam,” said the FCC chairman. “When you see what is going on on the [CES exhibit] floor, you realize we have to do something about this. WiFi is such an integral part of [the] ecosystem.”

Genachowski’s appearance at the CES was in marked contrast to his appearance eight months ago when he addressed the National Association of Broadcasters about implementing auctions of spectrum voluntarily relinquished by broadcasters. There, Genachowski faced a skeptical audience worried that the spectrum auctions would not be stacked in their favor.

At the CES, Genachowski is practically a hero who has pursued an agenda that favors the Internet and mobile economy.

“We want to call you the spectrum chairman,” Shapiro said to Genachowski.

The FCC chairman loved it. “I accept this honor,” Genachowski said.

Shapiro couldn’t help putting in a few digs aimed at broadcasters, who hold the ultimate success of the spectrum auctions in their hands. If they don’t participate, there won’t be a whole lot for the FCC to auction.

“When I heard comments from the National Association of Broadcasters, I was alarmed. They seem to be discouraging their members from cooperating,” Shapiro said.

To his credit, Genachowski didn’t take the bait. “Broadcasters are taking a second look,” he said, referring to the coalition formed by former broadcast network exec Preston Padden to bring together broadcasters interested in relinquishing spectrum.

Perhaps trying to mend fences with broadcasters—or at least make them feel better about ceding valuable spectrum real estate—Genachowski said the agency wanted to help broadcasters move onto digital platforms. “If there’s anything we can do in terms of modifying the regulatory structure to help broadcasters be multiplatform, we want to do it,” Genachowski said. “Broadcasters are incredibly important content creators; making sure they can reach their audience is part of the job.”

Rumors have swirled in Washington that Genachowski will leave before the end of the year. But so far, he’s not saying. “I love the sector. I love the issues. I love to show up to work everyday. It’s not going to get any less interesting,” he said.

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