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Spectrum Policy

The FCC’s 5.9 GHz Proposal Opens the Door to Future Innovation

October 27, 2020

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Wi-Fi is an engine of US economic growth and an important part of consumers’ everyday lives, especially as we increasingly depend on connectivity to do more remotely. As Americans navigate a new reality brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen demand for high-speed, reliable Wi-Fi access grow higher than ever before. Whether working, learning, or accessing healthcare and other critical resources, staying connected from a distance and in real-time requires robust and ubiquitous connectivity – with Wi-Fi carrying majority of the weight.

Wi-Fi, which operates using unlicensed spectrum, is the workhorse responsible for carrying a majority of internet traffic and has spurred significant innovation that has added tremendous value to the U.S. economy; it is a critical component of American connectivity. 

  • Charter’s network currently supports more than 300 million Internet Protocol (IP) devices, nearly all of which connect over Wi-Fi.
  • Of the wireless data consumed on our customers’ mobile devices, approximately 80% comes across our Wi-Fi network. 
  • Unlicensed technologies contributed $525 billion to the US economy in 2017, and are expected to contribute more than $834 billion in 2020 according to a report by Dr. Raul Katz– and that was before increased demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This anticipated growth hinges on the ability for internet service providers like Charter to build on Wi-Fi’s success and bring consumers better, faster and more reliable Wi-Fi.

The FCC is poised to adopt its proposal for the 5.9 GHz band, which will:

  • Advance the US 5G Transition and Power Innovation
    In early 2020, as Wi-Fi airwaves were reaching their limit, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took important steps to increase Wi-Fi capacity, which will better support in-home Wi-Fi and advance the US 5G transition. The Commission’s proposal to allow unlicensed sharing in the 5.9 GHz band will open critical bandwidth to support next-generation Wi-Fi and the rapidly increasing amount of data and devices connected to the Internet by early next year.
  • Help Consumers through COVID-19 and Beyond
    The 5.9 GHz band will quickly unleash gigabit Wi-Fi speeds and free up much-needed bandwidth to help families stay connected and productive through the remainder of the COVID-19 public health crisis and well beyond. Another benefit of opening 5.9 GHz for Wi-Fi is that, with the right rules in place, ISPs like Charter can quickly adapt existing devices, like the Wi-Fi 6 routers we’re deploying through the end of this year, to facilitate rapid consumer access. Charter already offers gigabit speeds (940 Mbps download) across virtually our entire footprint, and access to this critical unlicensed spectrum will enable us to deliver those gigabit speeds over Wi-Fi airwaves too so consumers can experience the full benefits of those upgrades.
  • Connect Rural America
    Some of the benefits of the FCC’s 5.9 GHz proposal can already be seen in a number of rural communities nationwide, as a result of the FCC’s grant of special temporary access to 5.9 GHz spectrum to help Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) support the increased traffic and demand on their networks brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The WISPs were able to quickly adapt existing equipment to activate 5.9 GHz spectrum and within weeks reported noticeable increases in speeds and capacity on their networks, highlighting the importance and value of 5.9 GHz to consumers throughout the country.

The FCC’s 5.9 GHz proposal has already garnered support from a wide array of organizations representing diverse ideologies and constituencies. In a recent letter to the White House, a large group of broadband providers, bipartisan think tanks, consumer organizations, and industry associations expressed enthusiastic support for the Commission’s 5.9 GHz proposal and encouraged the Administration to support its quick adoption. 

We applaud the Chairman’s leadership and Commissioners Rosenworcel and O’Rielly’s tireless efforts to take significant steps to accelerate America’s 5G transition and promote innovation in the unlicensed ecosystem. We hope the Commission will build on its positive momentum to adopt its innovative proposal for the 5.9 GHz band, and look forward to continuing to work with the Commission and the wide array of stakeholders to help usher in the next generations of Wi-Fi for American consumers, businesses, hospitals, and schools, in communities of all sizes across the country.