Article | April 15, 2020

Industry and Government Rise to Challenge of Increasing Access to Spectrum

Jamie Susskind

Right now, as Americans around the country are working from home to promote social distancing and comply with stay-at-home orders, the demands on our broadband networks have never been greater. For instance, fixed broadband network use rose by 20-35 percent in recent weeks, while cellular network use grew by 10-20 percent. And cable companies are reporting increased consumer use of both wi-fi calling and wi-fi data.

Broadband providers and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are stepping up to meet this challenge head-on. Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai publicized his plan to make more spectrum available for unlicensed use in the 6 GHz band. The FCC will vote on the plan next week. Unlicensed spectrum powers everything from your home wi-fi connection to drones, smart speakers, and virtual and augmented reality devices.

Perhaps more importantly, Chairman Pai’s 6 GHz proposal would help lay the groundwork for broadband providers, using next-generation connectivity, to provide the services needed to help our country weather COVID-19 or similar crises. For example, CTA members Broadcom and Google both noted how increased Wi-Fi capabilities will help Americans connect to telemedicine and distance learning applications. And Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of Wi-Fi, is expected to bring more speed, more capacity, and the ability to support more devices. CTA members, like Qualcomm, Intel, and Broadcom, are already demonstrating the enhanced capabilities of this new technology for remote learning, working, and health care.

Across the country, tech companies large and small are playing a crucial role in helping Americans adapt to our new normal. CTA members Apple and Google, for example, recently announced a partnership to build a Bluetooth-based, opt-in contact tracing platform available to public health agencies to help these officials reduce the spread of COVID-19.

But, as innovators develop life-changing technologies, it is incumbent on policymakers to create an environment that fosters their development. Without enough spectrum in the pipeline, we face limitations on how quickly we can bring these ideas to life.

Though the world looks drastically different today than it did in January, I’m encouraged by the steps government and the private sector are taking to help Americans adapt to the changes. By increasing access to unlicensed spectrum, the FCC can further support the millions of people who are now working and learning from home, as well as the tech innovations that will help treat patients, test vaccines, and track the virus. This is an action well worth taking.