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Allen and Kerry Introduce the Wireless Innovation Act

by Pamela Leavey

Today in a bipartisan effort, Senator George Allen (R-VA) and Senator John Kerry (D-MA) introduced in the Senate the Wireless Innovation Act of 2006 (WINN Act). Senators John Sununu (R-NH) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) also co-sponsored the bill.

The Wireless Innovation Act of 2006 aims to “facilitate the development of wireless broadband Internet access by allocating certain areas within the broadcast spectrum known as white spaces that are otherwise unassigned or unused.”

“Instead of just talking about it, we need to make affordable broadband a reality everywhere,” Kerry said. “In communities large and small, broadband access connects mothers to children, students to innovative new learning technologies and first responders to citizens in times of crisis. Making this technology available in all corners of our country is good for our families, demonstrates the spirit of American innovation and promotes our success in the global economy.”

“Unfortunately today, many people, from rural areas to big cities, either do not have access to broadband Internet service or simply cannot afford it. This legislation will enable entrepreneurs to provide affordable, competitive high-speed wireless broadband services in areas that otherwise have no connectivity to broadband Internet,” Allen said. “Providing a way to encourage the widespread adoption of broadband Internet access is vital to helping keep pace with the new global economy.”

“White spaces represent a significant untapped opportunity for new product innovation and unlicensed spectrum use. While we may be able to guess at some of the products that might develop because of this bill, the real benefits will probably derive from those that we can’t imagine today,” said Sununu. “Thankfully, advances in technology have eliminated any real claims of harmful interference by existing licensees in this spectrum band.”

The WINN Act specifically requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to permit unlicensed use of unassigned broadcast spectrum between 54MHz and 698 MHz within 180 days of enactment.

“Our bill encourages the most robust and efficient use of this nation’s spectrum. These white spaces exist in virtually every geographic area in this country and I believe they are a valuable public resource that should be used for the benefit of all American consumers.

“At a time when the U.S. is lagging behind much of the world in broadband penetration – and more than 60% of the country does not subscribe to broadband service primarily because it is either unavailable or unaffordable – our legislation would put this country one step closer to closing the economic digital divide and achieving ubiquitous broadband Internet access throughout America,” Allen said.

UPDATE: Consumer Groups Endorse Senator Kerry’s Efforts to Bring Affordable Broadband To All

Today Consumers Union and Free Press endorsed Senator John Kerry’s (D-MA) Wireless Innovation Act (WINN Act) that would help bring affordable broadband to all Americans by freeing unused spectrum within the broadcast frequency for use by providers of wireless broadband and for other services.

The legislation would direct the Federal Communications Commission to move quickly to free-up valuable but unused broadcast airwaves – known as empty channels, or white spaces- which could then be used for wireless broadband. In most markets, only half of the broadcast channels are actually used by television stations.

Below is the letter of support sent to Senator Kerry earlier today.

February 17, 2006

The Honorable John Kerry
United States Senate
Washington, D.C 20510

Dear Senator Kerry:

Thank you for your leadership in cosponsoring today the bipartisan Wireless Innovation Act of 2006, the WINN Act, and for your commitment to bringing affordable broadband to all Americans. The Act will go far in providing greater consumer choice in broadband, enhanced competition in telecommunications services, and new opportunities for technological and entrepreneurial innovation. We applaud your commitment to this important issue and strongly support your legislation.

Even as high-speed Internet access and adoption has been increasing, many consumers have been left behind. The problem is particularly acute in rural and urban areas that either lack access entirely, or have only a single service to choose from. Adoption of broadband in rural areas is only half that of urban parts of the country. And adoption by average income families is roughly half that for wealthy households. Without broadband Internet access and other wireless services, Americans in rural and underserved urban areas will continue to be stranded on the wrong side of the digital divide. Communities without affordable high-speed Internet access will lose jobs as businesses that need it locate elsewhere and their residents will continue to face increasingly serious disadvantages in educational and healthcare services.

Wireless, or Wi-Fi, broadband, because of its low deployment costs and ability to reach distant consumers without costly infrastructure or equipment, offers the greatest opportunity for expanding broadband access to consumers who lack it. Indeed, today, wireless Internet services providers and communities are already using the airwaves to deliver broadband to consumers in sparsely populated rural areas who have never had access to it. Broadband and other innovative wireless services offer the promise of increased economic development and jobs, enhanced market competition, improved delivery of e-government services, and accelerated universal, affordable Internet access for all Americans.

Unfortunately, airwaves suitable for wireless broadband are in short supply. Currently, Wi-Fi broadband providers must rely on airwaves that limit the ability of wireless signals to pass through walls and other obstacles. And they compete with hundreds of other wireless consumer devices that use the same airwaves. Without access to more and better airwaves, the promise of Wi-Fi broadband will be frustrated.

Your legislation, by directing the Federal Communications Commission to move quickly to free-up valuable but unused broadcast airwaves – known as empty channels, or white spaces – for nonexclusive use will go far in fulfilling that promise. Each television market in the United States has fifty channels allocated for over-the-air, broadcast television. However, in most markets, fewer than half of these channels are actually used by television stations. In most rural areas, there are more empty channels than used channels. Even in urban areas, a substantial amount of spectrum could be made available for wireless broadband. These airwaves are far too valuable to consumers to allow them to lay dormant. Opening the white spaces for new and innovative technologies is an essential step toward bridging the digital divide, bringing 21st century telecommunications to rural areas and providing affordable access to all Americans.

Thank you for your commitment to this important issue and for working, on a bipartisan basis, toward a competitive, marketplace solution to the problem of inadequate and unaffordable broadband.


Jeannine Kenney, Senior Policy Analyst, Consumers Union
Ben Scott, Policy Director

4 Responses to “Allen and Kerry Introduce the Wireless Innovation Act”

  1. What, is Dick too upset to keep productive activity off the Senate agenda? What about the definition of marriage?

  2. This proposal will provide much needed relief for Internet consumers everywhere.

  3. There is no “unused” space between TV channels. Broadcasters for many years have used the space between active TV channels for auxilary services like wireless microphones, intercom systems and other production tools. Allowing unlicensed WiFi in these bands will severely impair program producers ability to continue to deliver a product that the viewing public has come to expect.

  4. tvdoc,

    great insight.

    what are your thoughts about the possibilities of transitioning those wireless production tools into an IP environment of some sort?

    that way we all might win!