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FCC proposes to ease Wi-Fi airwaves logjam

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday took a step to relieve growing congestion on Wi-Fi networks in hotels, airports, and homes, where Americans increasingly use multiple data-hungry tablets, smartphones, and other devices for wireless communications.

The commission proposed making a large chunk of high-frequency airwaves, or spectrum, available for use by unlicensed devices, including Wi-Fi routers like those many Americans use in their homes.

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The agency’s five commissioners also expressed hope that the new airwaves would unleash new innovations, just as unlicensed spectrum in the past has made possible such devices as cordless phones, garage door openers, and television remote controls.

After a public comment period, the commissioners will try to issue final rules and regulations, a process that could take a year or more. But all of the commissioners expressed hope that the new airwaves could be put to use without unnecessary delay.

Possible roadblocks do exist, however, mainly because some of the airwaves proposed for the new applications are already in use by private organizations and government agencies, including the US military.

Congress has mandated that the FCC undertake the expansion of unlicensed spectrum, and the Obama administration has urged the freeing up or sharing of airwaves currently allocated to the federal government.

But various government agencies, including a division of the Commerce Department, have warned against allowing consumer uses to interfere with current applications.

Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant commerce secretary, said in a letter to the commission that the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and NASA use parts of the same airwaves for communication between aircraft and ground stations. Those communications enable activities like drug interdiction, combat search and rescue, and border surveillance.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said he was confident the commission’s engineers would be able to work with the affected government and private entities to solve interference problems.

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