Wifi Innovation Act Spells New Opportunities for Low-Income People to Get Online

Wifi Innovation Act Spells New Opportunities for Low-Income People to Get Online


With days left in the lame duck session of Congress, the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council has issued resounding support of the Wifi Innovation Act.  “With wireless quickly becoming a complement to wired broadband, the proposed…legislation will help policymakers effectively address barriers to broadband adoption to ultimately close the digital divide.  MMTC urges Congress, regulators, and policymakers to consider this legislation as a means to address digital disparities that limit full and robust access of the Internet and the platforms that it enables.”

In one of the rare shows of bipartisanship to come out of the 113th Congress, Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the Wifi Innovation Act (S. 2505) to make wifi spectrum more available for public use.  In addition to requiring that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) make available spectrum in the 5GHz band, the legislation also requires the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to provide expert advice on how best to ensure the technical capability of the spectrum.

Of particular note, the Wifi Innovation Act requires the FCC to conduct a study about the availability and use of wifi and wireless broadband in low-income neighborhoods.  Specifically, the study would:

  1. Assess the barriers to wifi deployment;
  2. Assess policies and incentives that could be used to increase the availability and use of wifi in low-income neighborhoods and promote its adoption by elementary and secondary school-aged children at school and at home;
  3. Evaluate proposals that could increase wifi and wireless broadband adoption by households with school-aged children; and
  4. Measure the availability of wireless hotspots and wifi to low-income children in grades K-12.

Wifi (unlicensed spectrum) has increasingly become a go-to technology for those without traditional broadband access at home, and it is an invaluable tool for making the power of the Internet readily accessible to more people.  To date, there are more than 250,000 wifi hotspots across the country, many of which have been created by various cable providers serving local communities. With the spectrum crunch looming large and consumer demand for on-the-go Internet access points increasing, wifi is a critical part of any forward thinking policy strategy that seeks to ensure that people can access the cutting-edge Internet technologies of the future.

Introduced on June 19, 2014, the Wifi Innovation Act has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for further action. A companion bill, H.R. 5125, was introduced in the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on July 16, 2014 by Representative Bob Latta (R-OH) on behalf of himself and Representatives Darrell Issa (R-OH), Ana Eshoo (D-CA), and Doris Matsui (D-CA). It was later referred to the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Should Congress fail to enact this legislation in the last few days before the 113th Congress adjourns, the future of wifi in this country may be left to the next Congress to decide.