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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 17, 2018. Photo: Win McNamee via Getty Images

The FCC recently proposed a new rule that will allow unlicensed users to access the 6 GHz band — a frequency on the radio spectrum — for Wi-Fi connectivity, causing a disagreement between broadband companies that would benefit from the rule and utility companies that currently rely on the frequency to communicate.

The big picture: The FCC and utility companies are on two different pages. Utility leaders say the FCC focuses more on the needs of the telecommunications sector and does not understand the negative effects their decisions might have on critical infrastructure operations. Since the FCC controls the radio frequency that grid operators rely on to communicate, utilities are frustrated their needs are being overlooked.

Background: The FCC reserves portions of the 6 GHz band for communications between licensed electric, water and natural gas utilities companies. The FCC says the proposed change to open the band to unlicensed users will solve the country's airwave shortage problem and improve Wi-Fi capabilities for mobile devices and wireless routers.

What they're saying:

  • Tech companies — including Apple, Google, Cisco, Facebook and HPsupport the FCC plan, arguing that wireless broadband services will need it to meet growing demand.
  • Groups representing utility companies warn against the rule, saying that an influx of users might clog mobile communications for licensed energy companies, potentially compromising safety during electric grid blackouts or natural disasters.
  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai claims the proposed rule will not interfere with those who already rely on it, promising to open up 1,200 MHz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band for different types of unlicensed uses in a way that will protect incumbent licensed ones.

The bottom line: Though the FCC's intention is to improve Wi-Fi connectivity for everyone, the rule highlights an important clash within FCC's jurisdiction that needs to be resolved. The debate presents an opportunity for the FCC to come together with the tech industry, utility companies and Congress to discuss solutions that will protect grid safety and reliability for all Americans.

Sarah E. Hunt is the co-founder and CEO of Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

A man prepares a funeral arrangement in in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 12. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

4 hours ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.