FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that he’ll raise at the commission next month a proposal to “free up a substantial amount of spectrum for wifi to relieve wifi congestion and (increase) speeds.” He made the announcement at a friendly venue: the International CES confab in Las Vegas, where tech manufacturers are hungry for additional wireless spectrum for smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. “This is an exciting new initiative….This is really important,” Genachowski says. Although most details will be released later, the wireless bandwidth will come from unlicensed spectrum in the 5 Ghz band held by the Defense Department and other government agencies. “As in other areas, we’re convinced the spectrum can be shared,” he says. The wifi spectrum in that band will increase by 35%, he added. It’s the largest block of unlicensed spectrum opened for wifi since 2003.

He still wants broadcasters to contribute airwaves they use in exchange for some proceeds when they’re auctioned to broadband providers. Most broadcasters have been cool to the idea. Genachowski says he isn’t surprised, but adds that “it just doesn’t make sense for our country…This is the best idea anyone has come up with to free up spectrum in major markets.” When it’s done “there will still be a broadcasting industry. There’ll be fewer stations.” He added that he might also consider modifying regulations to help broadcasters offer programming or services on additional platforms. “That is part of our job….We’re in a global bandwidth race and our competitors are not slowing down.”

He also hopes that wireless broadband providers will compete with the cable and phone companies that dominate wired Internet services. “It would be a mistake to assume it will happen,” he says. “Competition is the lifeblood of our free market economy…Focusing on competition is essential.”

A heckler interrupted Genachowski before being hustled out by security. “Safety guidelines do not protect children and the elderly,” the man said. “We’re giving people cancer and you know it…Nobody’s looking at the research.”