The five-member commission approved the proposals unanimously, freeing up the biggest block of wireless spectrum for unlicensed use in ten years - 195MHz in the 5GHz band. It hopes the move will reduce overload in congested areas such as airports and convention centers, and will improve upload and download speeds across the board.
"Wifi congestion is a very real and growing problem. Like licensed spectrum, demand for unlicensed spectrum threatens to outpace supply. The core challenge is the dramatically increased use of wireless devices, which require spectrum," says FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.
"Recently published data from Cisco estimates that commercial wireless networks are already offloading 33 percent of all traffic to Wifi and project that offloading will grow to 46 percent by 2017. So while Wifi offload is part of the solution to the problem of congested cellular networks, Wifi’s popularity is creating congestion issues of its own."
However, because the spectrum's already in use, partly but not entirely by federal users, there'll be a lot of negotiation involved. And there's opposition from some lawmakers who believe that the FCC is missing a chance to raise some cash through a spectrum auction.
The FCC's also making changes to the rules covering signal boosters, with different rules applying to consumers and businesses. Users will need equipment that conforms to certain specifications, and will have to get permission to use a booster from their provider.
"They are a cost-effective means of expanding the reach of our nation's wireless infrastructure. Individual consumers with no technical expertise can install signal boosters in their homes or in their vehicles," he says.
"Signal boosters can significantly increase coverage in rural areas, as well as dense, urban environments, such as hospitals or office buildings, that can be hard to serve. We've already seen benefits that boosters can bring."
The changes have been welcomed by the Consumer Electronics Association.
"As we saw at the 2013 International CES, products increasingly rely on Wifi," says president and CEO Gary Shapiro.
"The Commission’s proposal will expedite ultra high-speed, high-capacity Wifi in support of the US innovation economy. CEA and our members look forward to working with the FCC to craft rules that will enable all consumers to access data – whenever and wherever they want."