Expanded Wi-Fi Easing Wireless Jams Advances at U.S. FCC

The Federal Communications Commission voted today to write rules opening more U.S. airwaves to Wi-Fi devices and easing wireless congestion in airports and conference halls.

The FCC voted 5-0 for the plan over objections from automakers and their suppliers who say the new Wi-Fi frequencies could jam car-to-car wireless communications systems being developed to prevent accidents.

The plan for Wi-Fi, an aerial Internet connection found in coffee shops and offices, is part of President Barack Obama’s strategy to expand airwaves sharing to cope with a shortage of frequencies that threatens to slow wireless Internet traffic.

“Wi-Fi congestion is a very real and growing problem,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said at the agency’s monthly meeting in Washington. “We’re at the early stage of this but it will only get worse” as Wi-Fi use grows.

The agency will take comments on the plan before voting on final passage.

Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Washington-based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the auto industry will review the FCC plan and work with regulators on concerns about interference with safety systems.

“Automakers have already invested heavily in the research and development of these safety critical systems, and our successes have been based on working closely with our federal partners,” said Newton, whose group’s members include General Motors Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. “It is imperative that, as we move forward, we do adequate research and testing on potential interference issues that could arise from opening up this band to unlicensed users.”

No Delay

The FCC will consult with federal and non-U.S. users of nearby airwaves to “enable non-interfering, shared use,” Genachowski said. “Consultation can’t be an excuse for inaction or delay.”

The agency, on another unanimous vote today, set rules to clear the way for wider use of boosters that can help consumers receive weak wireless signals. The rules also aim to prevent marketing of devices that can cause interference to mobile networks.

“Consumers who buy devices meeting our standards will be able to enjoy better wireless access without disrupting the service of their neighbors or the communications needs of first responders,” Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said in an e-mailed statement. “Wireless carriers will also benefit as boosters extend the reach of their networks and reduce the number of dropped calls due to weak signals.”

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