Representatives from a group representing more than 700 small wireless broadband providers are making their first pilgrimage to Washington this week to lobby policy makers to ensure the firms continue to have access to unlicensed spectrum.
About 20 members of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association are meeting with officials from the Federal Communications Commission and White House as well as key lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The group represents small firms that generally use unlicensed spectrum to provide wireless broadband service to a few hundred or several thousand customers in rural communities and small towns that are not served by a cable company or another wired broadband provider.
Among the group's top priorities is to ensure that the FCC gives priority to unlicensed uses as it begins work on crafting rules implementing the spectrum legislation approved by Congress in February as part of a payroll-tax cut package. The legislation gave the FCC the flexibility to use some of the spectrum it may recapture as a result of the law for unlicensed uses.
In particular, WISPA members said they will be watching the FCC closely to ensure that as it implements a new type of auction aimed at persuading broadcasters to give up some of their spectrum, it will continue to allow for unlicensed uses between television channels.
"What we need is more unlicensed spectrum and practical operating rules to allow us to use it," Jack Unger, chairman of the group's FCC Committee, told reporters Wednesday.
In addition to getting the federal government to free up more unlicensed spectrum, WISPA members say they also are concerned about policy proposals that could subsidize competitors to provide service in areas they already serve.
The FCC is currently working to transform the Universal Service Fund from providing subsidies to support discounted telephone service in under-served and rural areas to supporting broadband service. They worry that the FCC will allocate universal service funding to competitors to provide broadband service in areas already served by WISPA members. This was an issue some GOP lawmakers highlighted during a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee oversight hearing Wednesday on the broadband grants provided under the 2009 economic stimulus package.
The group said they also are working to educate lawmakers about the importance of unlicensed spectrum, which is most commonly used to provide Wi-Fi. WISPA and other supporters of freeing up more spectrum for unlicensed uses managed to persuade members of Congress to drop a provision in the spectrum legislation that would have required unlicensed spectrum to be auctioned. Despite this, the group's officials say they still worry that Congress may try to restrict the ability of the FCC to free up unlicensed spectrum in the future.