Court Upholds FCC Move To Free Spectrum For Next-Gen WiFi

In a move that could pave the way for faster WiFi service, an appellate court has upheld a Federal Communications Commission decision to make additional spectrum available for unlicensed use.

AT&T, Century Link, National Association of Broadcasters and others challenged the FCC's decision in court, arguing that the agency had discounted the risk of interference with services such as 911 dispatch, and electric grid monitoring.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals largely rejected that argument.

“Petitioners have failed to provide a basis for questioning the Commission’s conclusion that the order will protect against a significant risk of harmful interference, just the kind of highly technical determination to which we owe considerable deference,” Circuit Judge David Tatel wrote in an opinion joined by Judges Patricia Millett and Justin Walker.

The FCC's order specifically freed 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band available for use by unlicensed devices, provided they are designed to prevent interference with incumbent users of the 6 GHz band.

The agency said at the time that its decision would result in next-generation WiFi service, which is expected to transmit data at speeds of at least 2.5 times the current standard.

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel called the court ruling “an important step in clearing the way for next generation Wi-Fi access.”

She added: “In this pandemic so much of modern life has migrated online. 6 GHz Wi-Fi will help us address this challenge by offering more access in more places, faster speeds, and better performance from our Wi-Fi networks.”

While the appellate judges upheld the bulk of the FCC's order, they also said the agency hadn't adequately addressed an argument raised by the National Association of Broadcasters. That organization contended that the agency failed to protect broadcasters' licensed mobile operations from interference. The judges directed the FCC to respond to those concerns, but left in place the agency's underlying decision to make spectrum available.

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