On March 31, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held its monthly Open Meeting and adopted two orders that will make a tremendous amount of new spectrum available for wireless broadband access. In one Report and Order, the FCC designated high-frequency spectrum at the 5 Gigahertz (GHz) frequency for new unlicensed use, meaning that the spectrum will not be auctioned for money and will not require special applications to the FCC. This 5GHz spectrum can be used for Wi-Fi and similar services.

“These twin actions have been eagerly anticipated by both the telecom industry and consumers who have long complained about the ‘spectrum crunch’ in the United States.”

In a written statement, Chairman Tom Wheeler said of the Report and Order, “Our action today will create new opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators, and much-needed relief to the growing problem of congestion on Wi-Fi networks.” The Chairman noted that “Wi-Fi has become a victim of its own popularity,” but the new spectrum “will provide fertile ground for the growth of ‘Gigabit Wi-Fi’ — the latest generation of ultra-high-speed, high-capacity Wi-Fi that can provide data speeds in excess of 1 Gigabit per second.” Commissioner Ajit Pai summed up his vote by saying, “I love Wi-Fi. And so does the American public.”

In the second Report and Order, the FCC allocated spectrum at various frequencies for auction. This spectrum includes the 1695-1710 Megahertz (MHz), 1755-1780 MHz, and 2155-2180 MHz bands and totals 65 MHz. The FCC has made this spectrum available for exclusive use by licensees under both the “spectrum block” and the “geographic license” methods and will be shared between private and governmental entities. It is the largest one-time allocation for licensed spectrum since 2008. According to the FCC press release about the item, “The Report and Order is the result of years of work across multiple federal agencies and in coordination with industry stakeholders[.]”

These twin actions have been eagerly anticipated by both the telecom industry and consumers who have long complained about the “spectrum crunch” in the United States. The hope is that the new spectrum allocations, which stay true to the Chairman’s commitment to fostering both licensed and unlicensed use, will enable more Americans to enjoy mobile broadband access on more devices than ever before. And according to Chairman Wheeler, “We are not stopping here.” The Commission is considering the addition of 195 MHz more spectrum for mobile broadband. Stay tuned.