Senators sketch out new broadband bill

A bill expected to be introduced in the US Senate early next year is being promoted to encourage the expansion of broadband internet access by making more broadcast spectrum available to devices that incorporate new technologies such as Wi-Fi .

          A bill expected to be introduced in the US Senate early next year is being promoted to encourage the expansion of broadband internet access by making more broadcast spectrum available to devices that incorporate new technologies such as Wi-Fi .

          Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, and George Allen, a Republican from Virginia, have announced plans to introduce the bill in the 108th Congress, which is scheduled to convene in January. The bill proposes a way to jumpstart expansion of broadband technologies that the bill's sponsors say breaks with traditional thinking about how this can be accomplished.

          The Boxer-Allen proposal would require the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make more broadcast spectrum available for use by devices that incorporate new technologies like Wi-Fi wireless network connectivity, according to a news release issued by Boxer. The bill also requires the FCC to develop guidelines for the expanded portion of the broadcast spectrum that will be used by these devices to avoid signal congestion and interference.

          Current regulations limit Wi-Fi and similar technologies to a small portion of the spectrum, which in turn limits their development, Boxer said in the release. The Wi-Fi 802.11b connectivity specification is used for high-speed wireless Internet connectivity. Wi-Fi "hot spots" -- the zones in which it's possible to connect -- are typically found in places such as airport lounges and coffee shops.

          Another goal of Boxer and Allen's legislation is to give people in rural communities new ways of accessing the internet.

          The proposal would follow on the heels of an ill-fated attempt in the 107th Congress to spur the growth of broadband that set off fierce debates within the industry. The Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act, better known as the Tauzin-Dingell bill, won approval in the US.House of Representatives in February, but died in the Senate.

          That bill was crafted to make it easier for incumbent local phone companies such as Verizon Communications and BellSouth to offer high-speed internet services. But it also would have eliminated regulations that require incumbents to open the data component of their local telephone networks to competitors before receiving approval from regulators to enter long-distance data markets.

          Work is already under way in Washington to reform US spectrum policy. Earlier this month the FCC began considering recommendations, including more flexible use of spectrum, that were made by a task force assigned to look at the US spectrum policy. Also recommended are a major revision of rules governing signal interference and the resale or lease of spectrum under certain conditions.

          The recommendations are aimed at modernising the rules that guide how the nation's spectrum is managed and used, and at allowing the rules to evolve from a traditional government "command and control" model to a more flexible, consumer-oriented approach, the FCC says.

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