* Crush of mobile devices can slow Internet traffic
* Move would open some airwaves used by government to public
By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON, Feb 20 U.S. regulators on Wednesday
proposed to free certain slices of airwaves in an ongoing effort
to tackle the shortage of available wireless spectrum, a move
that could ease Wi-Fi congestion in airports, stadiums and other
The Federal Communications Commission's proposal would open
for public and private use some of the airwaves largely used by
government entities, including the Department of Defense and the
Federal Aviation Administration.
More spectrum - airwaves used to transmit wireless signals -
would mean better connections in homes as well as at convention
centers, stadiums, airports and other places where large numbers
of devices are used to access the Web at the same time.
At present, a crush of users can slow Internet traffic to a
frustrating crawl - a phenomenon well known to business
travelers and others. It has made spectrum crunch one of the top
priorities of the FCC and technology leaders in U.S. Congress.
The FCC and the telecommunications industry have warned of a
looming shortage of spectrum that could hurt the quality, speed
and coverage of U.S. data connection services.
The new proposal, approved unanimously, would add 195
megahertz of unlicensed spectrum to the 555 MHz currently
available in the less-congested 5 gigahertz radio frequency
band. In the past, new unlicensed spectrum led to innovations
such as cordless telephones and remote garage-door openers.
The FCC's new proposal now also seeks better technical rules
for spectrum-sharing by federal, commercial and private users.
A government review of the 5 GHz band, completed in January,
raised concerns about risks of interference posed by such shared
use of the spectrum to federal programs occupying it now.
Authored by the National Telecommunications and Information
Administration, the FCC's counterpart that oversees
government-used airwaves, the review called for more testing
that could last through 2014 to ensure no federal missions would
The FCC's move also raised red flags in the auto industry,
though, which worries about interference with new technology
relying on the 5 GHz band, such as self-driving cars and systems
that help avoid accidents.
President Barack Obama has directed the FCC and NTIA to
greatly expand the commercial use of the government-controlled
spectrum over the next decade as a rising number of devices and
programs rely on such connections.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski on Wednesday said he did not
foresee a need to backtrack on sharing of the requested
frequencies and hoped that current users and the commission
could consult and come up with solutions to make it work.
"This proposal today is based on a tremendous amount of
engineering work," he said. "So we don't now see any reason why
we can't put 195 new megahertz of spectrum for unlicensed use on
the market and do it in a way that's compatible with other
The FCC will now collect comments on the proposed rules
before finalizing them. Analysts forecast the process would take
months and maybe over a year, given the interference concerns,
which the NTIA reiterated in a letter to Genachowski on Tuesday.
In a statement, NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling
welcomed the FCC's "comprehensive approach" to resolving the
issues related to sharing of airwaves.
Similarly, Scott Belcher, chief executive of the Intelligent
Transportation Society of America that includes automakers and
suppliers, cautioned "against putting near-term life-saving
innovations like connected vehicle technology at risk in the
pursuit of future Wi-Fi applications".
(Editing by David Gregorio and Dale Hudson)