Remarks Of FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel Wi-Fi In The 5 Ghz Fast Lane The National Press Club

The demand for our airwaves is growing at a blistering pace. Indeed, the need for more licensed spectrum -- the airwaves that can be controlled by a single wireless operator -- has been widely recognized.

In fact, this led Congress to direct the FCC to hold a series of auctions for licensed airwaves that will take place over in 2014 and 2015. But what is less well known is that demand for unlicensed spectrum -- airwaves open to all under some basic technical rules -- is also growing. So the spectrum that powers Wi-Fi and a slew of our daily activities and devices is also getting more congested.

So why does this matter? First, the unlicensed economy represents economic growth. Residential Wi-Fi has been estimated to contribute between $16-37 billion to our economy annually. More recent economic studies that add up the broader impact of unlicensed spectrum on the economy estimate its annual value at more than $140 billion. By any estimate, the value of unlicensed spectrum is big. Second, the unlicensed economy represents innovation. Keeping airwaves open and available for unlicensed experimentation could yield a new world of gee-whiz devices and wireless services. Third, the unlicensed economy represents Internet connectivity. Wi-Fi is an essential onramp to the Internet.

While this unlicensed spectrum continues to serve Wi-Fi well, it is getting mighty crowded. So I think the FCC should do something about it. Let’s start by leaving behind the tired notion that we face a choice between licensed and unlicensed airwaves. Because good spectrum policy requires both. Moreover, I think this kind of division is a simplistic relic from the past. And to help meet this demand for unlicensed services, we have a terrific near-term opportunity in the 5 GHz band.

[March 7]

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