Subcommittee Checks in on Administration Examination of Spectrum Use in the 5 GHz Band

November 13, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC – The Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, chaired by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), today held a hearing examining work by the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to investigate the possibility of expanding unlicensed use of the 5 GHz spectrum band, as required by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. The hearing continues the subcommittee’s ongoing oversight of the law’s implementation and members today heard from stakeholders about challenges presented by expanding unlicensed use in the band as well as opportunities for new and innovative technologies and services.

“Unlicensed spectrum technologies have allowed all of us to use devices that have made our lives safer, and more convenient, connected, informative and entertaining. It has and will continue to help create billions of dollars of economic growth and hundreds of thousands of jobs all across America,” said Walden. “The spectrum provisions that were signed into law last year had their beginnings in this subcommittee. We instructed the NTIA and the FCC to begin the process of bringing additional spectrum into the unlicensed marketplace by first asking them to assess the feasibility of doing so without causing harmful interference to licensed operators already occupying the band. Just as we had a central focus on ensuring that broadcasting remained a viable service after the incentive auction, so too did we have a focus on ensuring that new unlicensed uses were in addition to and not interfering with existing licensed services.”

Julius Knapp, Chief of the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology, explained the agency’s work in this area, specifically outlining the commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. While progress is being made, he did caution that freeing up spectrum for unlicensed use will be difficult. “Because of the existing incumbent users in the three 5 GHz bands, making the spectrum more usable - or usable at all - for unlicensed use, will be challenging. But the importance of the 5 GHz band, and the benefits of unlicensed spectrum generally are clear, and the Commission has indicated its strong desire to move forward in seeking to resolve those challenges,” said Knapp.

Toyota Principal Researcher John Kenney spoke to the dedicated short-range communication technology (DRSC) that is being developed to help vehicles communicate with one another to prevent automobile accidents. While Toyota is “generally supportive” of moving forward to provide consumers increased access to unlicensed spectrum, Kenney suggested that, “the creation of a sharing framework, or the implementation of sharing rules, should not occur unless and until: (1) a viable spectrum sharing technology is identified; and (2) testing verifies that there is no harmful interference from unlicensed devices.”

Comcast Senior Vice President Tom Nagel discussed the many benefits to consumers and industry that increased availability of unlicensed spectrum would bring. Nagel stated, “Consumer demand for wireless services – licenses and unlicensed – continues to grow at unprecedented rates, creating new opportunities to provide innovative technological solutions and drive economic growth. Unlicensed wireless services in particular have proven to be an invaluable part of the wireless ecosystem, dramatically enhancing the value of licensed wireless and fixed broadband services”

“There are some significant technical challenges in the 5 GHz band. It is not cleared spectrum. It contains incumbent uses important for national security and public safety. So we have to get this right,” explained Bob Friday, Cisco’s Vice President and Chief Technological Officer. “Adding more spectrum for broadband and Wi-Fi is a critical for future growth of mobile networks and the American economy. It will lead to new ecosystems, new industries and new jobs, as well as help ensure American technological leadership.”

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