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The WiFi Innovation Act of 2015

Congress wants more wi-fi available to the general public, and in order to do so, both the U.S. House and Senate have legislation to explore one possibility of getting you a new way to access a wireless signal. Congressmen Bob Latta (R-OH) has introduced H.R. 861 and Senator Marco Rubio has introduced S 424, and both do the same thing. They order a test to see if a wi-fi signal can coexist with the incumbent licensee on the 5850-5925 megahertz (MGh) band. Currently the most popular band for wi-fi is 2.4 and the incumbent licensee for the 5805-5925 MGh is vehicles. The license was dedicated for use by vehicles in 1999 by the FCC, before wi-fi was even available for public use. What that means is the Federal Communications Commission set aside that particular spectrum specifically for anything related to your vehicle communicating with other vehicles (v2v) or the infrastructure, also known as telematics. They saw the day when your vehicle will communicate with the red light or approaching toll booth to alert you of the upcoming need to brake. The FCC did that so that the frequency would be free from outside interference and avoid any hiccups with the technology that could result in injuries and fatalities. It was a great idea at the time. However, the technology that has been developed since 1999 has changed the way that the frequency spectrum is used and it has been proven that parts of the spectrum can accommodate both wifi and another use in the same frequency. Since the spectrum is only so big, we must develop technology to accommodate multiple uses on one spectrum.

This bill tasks the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to publish a test plan to see if wi-fi can coexist with the vehicle technology. NTIA is an agency within the Department of Commerce that oversees spectrum management. Should the bill be passed into law, NTIA would have six months to issue the plan to conduct the test; then they have 15 months to actually conduct the test and gather information, along with the FCC and DOT, and issue a report. Should they find that it is possible for the multiple uses to occur with out harmful interference, then the FCC will have to approve the matter. Should the testing fail, then the idea will be abandoned.

It is not certain if this bill would allow for complete coverage of wi-fi only indoors or out of doors as well. That depends on the test results. This is not referring to the internet you may be able to generate from your car, smartphone or hot spot. This would be a new type of wi-fi on a totally different spectrum and would generate a blanket signal available to all who are within coverage, much like many college campuses and municipalities are doing, but on a different frequency.

The Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) is tracking this issue because like all driver assist technology, we fear that this will reduce the amount time drivers spend watching the road. “Technologies that take the actual operators out of the equation are always worrisome; this is no different. If operators become accustomed to not needing to pay attention for red lights and stop signs, we all know that will pose problem for motorcyclists,” said Jeff Hennie Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs for the Motorcycle Riders Foundation.

The MRF does not currently have a position on this issue. The distracted driving portion of this issue is completely separate from this legislation. This legislation simply conducts a technical test to see what's possible with modern technology. The distracted driving issue will always be part of the discussion as more and more technology is employed by vehicles.

The FCC would have ultimate sign off on the use of the frequency for a wireless source. Should they see any foreseeable problems, they will not allow for the use.