U.S. bill seeks more Wi-Fi airwaves alongside smart cars

(Reuters) - Two U.S. senators on Tuesday revived legislation that seeks to allocate more airwaves to public Wi-Fi by requiring regulators to quickly test how shared radio frequencies could coexist alongside those used for communications among smart cars.

The bill by Senators Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, would direct the Federal Communications Commission to study how more spectrum can be freed up for public use without interfering with connected vehicles, which are incumbent users.

The Wi-Fi Innovation Act, which was previously introduced last year, had garnered widespread support from various makers of high-tech equipment, as well as the wireless and cable industries, which seek more connections to use for phone calls and data-guzzling gadgets.

"The result will transform 75 megahertz of currently moribund and lightly used spectrum into a powerhouse for American broadband," Comcast's Regulatory Policy Vice President David Don wrote about the bill in 2014.

The auto community, however, has used those airwaves to develop safety systems that allow cars to communicate with each other and the elements around them, such as traffic signals or bicycles. They remain concerned about interference.

Several groups, including the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Intelligent Transportation Society of America, wrote to all lawmakers both in the Senate and the House of Representatives to oppose the bill.

"'Talking cars' that avoid crashes and reduce traffic congestion and pollution are being deployed today as tests continue," the groups wrote. "That is why we ask for you to oppose any legislation, such as the Wi-Fi Innovation Act, that could set the program back and risk the implementation of this life saving technology and safety system."

The FCC has been weighing how to expand the use of the so-called upper 5 gigahertz band of spectrum. The bill, which was introduced in June last year but never voted on, seeks to speed up their considerations.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers at the House of Representatives also introduced companion legislation.

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh in Washington and Joe White in Detroit; Editing by Alan Crosby)