An Easy Source of Wi-Fi Spectrum

An Easy Source of Wi-Fi Spectrum

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering allowing the company Globalstar to use its existing 22 MHz of satellite spectrum to support Wi-Fi services in areas where its other services are in less demand. The proposal would increase U.S. Wi-Fi capacity by one-third in the 2.4 GHz band, is structured to avoid technical conflicts with other wireless broadband, and would deliver strong economic benefits. Because this satellite spectrum is adjacent to existing Wi-Fi spectrum, subscribers could immediately access the spectrum using their normal Wi-Fi devices.

When it comes to scarce spectrum, opportunities like this seldom arrive. And yet some doubters persist, as seen in recent stories about a short-seller who claims Globalstar's spectrum is "useless," in part because of the FCC's limits on its use. Meanwhile, the growth in consumer demand for wireless broadband is expected to increase twenty-fold over in the next five years.

One potential source of bandwidth is underused TV stations. To mine that ore, the FCC is running a complex auction that might free up some spectrum for wireless broadband use. In contrast, the use of satellite spectrum for Wi-Fi is voluntary, simple, and entirely consistent with Congress's and the FCC's quest for additional broadband spectrum.

Allowing for more efficient use of assigned satellite spectrum makes sense because satellite services are not as intensely used in urban markets, due to the presence of many alternative wireline and wireless broadband service providers. This means that this satellite spectrum is not being fully utilized in non-rural markets -- which is exactly where Wi-Fi services are in the most demand.

Wi-Fi traffic is expected to leapfrog the volume of wireline Internet traffic by 2018, which makes getting more spectrum devoted to Wi-Fi a necessity. New Wi-Fi spectrum would give the public faster upload and download speeds, more consistent Internet responsiveness, and more Wi-Fi hotspots via satellite. It could boost GDP by $11 billion and add 90,000 jobs to the economy.

Further, if the proposal is approved, the company "commits to deploy 20,000 free [terrestrial low power service] access points in the nation's public and non-profit schools, community colleges and hospitals." Further, the proposal would require Globalstar to provide its mobile satellite services free of charge to its customers in any federally declared disaster -- precisely during the time when satellite may be the only game in town.

Congress and the FCC need to get more spectrum onboard for wireless broadband services. The Globalstar proposal asks little or nothing from the FCC, the taxpayer, or the consumer. The benefits it delivers will be widely spread among the public.

Again, opportunities like this seldom come our way. The proposal should be welcomed and permission granted expeditiously.

Alan Daley writes for the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, a nonprofit educational and research organization.

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