Senators Aim to Wirelessly Jumpstart Broadband

Senators George Allen (R.-Va.) and Barbara Boxer (D.-Ca.) are circulating a draft bill to gain early support in the 108th Congress to promote a wireless approach to broadband deployment. An Allen spokesperson said the bill and accompanying “Dear Colleague” letter are efforts to “get beyond the stalemated debate of cable versus DSL.”

The draft legislation calls for the Federal Communications Commission to allocate not less than 255 megahertz of contiguous spectrum below 6 gigahertz for unlicensed use by wireless broadband devices.

“Unfortunately, much of the current debate in Congress over broadband services has focused on two platforms, cable and DSL, and whether we should support competition versus deregulation of telecommunications as the best mechanism for encouraging broadband deployment,” Allen and Boxer’s letter states. “This debate has reached an unproductive stalemate and fails to consider that other technologies are available that can jump-start consumer-driven investment and demand in broadband services.”

The letter also says the legislation is designed to “foster a third, alternative mode of broadband communication — making more unlicensed spectrum available for exciting, new wireless technologies and requiring the FCC to design minimum rules of the road for broadband devices to operate in that spectrum.”

Allen and Boxer claim the innovations and advances in the development of unlicensed wireless, radio-based networks (currently known as WiFi), offer an additional means of delivering data at high speed and also allow new business models for delivering broadband connectivity to emerge.

“These emerging unlicensed wireless technologies can support the transmission of data at high speeds and at low cost. This is especially compelling in rural areas where distance is so frequently the enemy of wire-line networks and the primary reason for the high cost of rural broadband deployment,” the senators said in their joint letter.

Economists at the Brookings Institution have estimated that widespread, high-speed broadband access would increase the national GDP by $500 billion annually by 2006.

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