Sens. Snowe, Warner Propose All Fed Buildings Get Wi-Fi

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Photo: Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Mark Warner (D-Va.); Photo: snowe.senate.gov, warner.senate.gov

A new bill proposed by Sens. Olympia Snow (R-Maine) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) would require all federal buildings to install small wireless base stations to free up space on overtaxed cellphone networks, according to a report in The Hill.

The Federal Wi-Net Act, introduced Friday, directs all publicly accessible federal buildings to install Wi-Fi base stations, as well as similar cellular base stations known as femtocells.

The legislation applies to buildings currently under construction, and older buildings will have to be retrofitted by 2014, according to The Hill.

By freeing up mobile broadband space, the legislation aims to reduce dropped calls and increase network capacity, by moving federal workers and others in federal buildings onto an in-house network.

“With over 276 million wireless subscribers across our nation and growing demand for wireless broadband, it is imperative that we take steps to improve wireless communication capacity, and this legislation will make measurable progress towards that goal,” Snowe said.

She noted that 60 percent of mobile Internet use and 40 percent of cellphone calls happen indoors, so “utilizing technologies such as Wi-Fi and femtocells will dramatically improve coverage.”

The General Services Administration would be tasked with outfitting federal buildings with the stations, and the proposal would be paid for, in part, using $15 million from the Federal Buildings Fund.

Warner, the legislation’s other co-sponsor, said federal buildings offered a good place to start freeing up space on broadband networks.

“By starting with the nearly 9,000 federal buildings owned or operated by the General Services Administration, we will be able to provide appreciable improvement in wireless coverage for consumers,” he said, “while also reducing some of the pressure on existing wireless broadband networks.”

Freeing up network capacity is a timely topic. As more cellphone customers dial in, and an increasing number of them do so on smartphones offering Internet access, some have predicted a wireless broadband spectrum shortage.

Earlier this fall, the Federal Communications Commission proposed using portions of the broadcast spectrum to shore up gaps in mobile broadband coverage.

Under that proposal, broadcasters would auction their unused spectrum space to broadband providers, who, in turn, would use it to expand coverage.

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