Groups Seek Panel’s Action on FCC Transportation Spectrum Proposal

Rendering showing connected vehicles
A rendering showing connected vehicles at an intersection. (U.S. Department of Transportation)

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Groups representing the freight industry and passenger transportation sectors called on a Senate panel to direct the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider a proposal to shift a portion of auto safety airwaves for broadband uses.

Led by the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, the groups criticized the FCC’s position to reallocate an aspect of the 5.9 GHz band preserved for transportation communications. They insist preserving the existing spectrum band would facilitate innovation that would lead to safety benefits for motorists and passengers.

“Reducing the amount of spectrum available to vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technologies undermines our shared interest in reducing the number of traffic fatalities and injuries that occur each year on U.S. roadways, improving motor vehicle safety and improving the operational performance of roadways by reducing congestion across the transportation system,” the groups wrote the leaders of the Senate Commerce Committee on June 23. The panel has jurisdiction over trucking policy.

“Such a decision would also harm U.S. global competitiveness with respect to next-generation automotive safety technologies,” the groups wrote.

The groups went on, “V2X complements [automated vehicle] sensors by providing information that is more precise, over longer ranges, and in non-line-of-sight conditions.”

Groups aligned with the Intelligent Transportation Society of America’s viewpoint include American Trucking Associations, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the League of American Bicyclists, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

At a committee hearing on June 24 with the FCC, senators instead mostly focused on issues pertaining to rural broadband access.

In March, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation shared with the FCC its opposition to the proposal. As the organization put it, “As the commission considers the potential for sharing the 5.9 GHz band it should continue to employ a data driven, fact-based approach to optimizing current and future utilization of the 5.9 GHz band.”

“The U.S. [Department of Transportation] has emphasized the importance of such an approach in moving toward automated vehicle integration,” added the alliance.

RELATED: FCC Opens Wi-Fi Access to Aid Coronavirus Response

On Capitol Hill, several key transportation policymakers have sided with stakeholders and senior transportation officials in raising concerns about the FCC’s move. A bipartisan group of House lawmakers reached out to the FCC earlier this year.

“The [House Transportation and Infrastructure] committee has substantial concerns with the [notice of proposed rulemaking],” the lawmakers wrote. “For these reasons noted above, we urge the FCC to reconsider the approach in the NPRM that reallocates spectrum within the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed uses, such as Wi-Fi. In particular, there remain serious outstanding questions about the potential implications of this approach that could significantly undermine safety benefits to the driving public.”


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Specifically, the FCC agreed in December to propose designating the lower 45 MHz of the band for unlicensed uses, while the remaining 30 MHz would remain for transportation and vehicle safety-related services. Firms such as Microsoft and Comcast argue the split would address demands for Wi-Fi. In 1999, the FCC dedicated frequencies for transportation safety purposes known as Dedicated Short Range Communication Services, or DSRC.

According to background outlined in the Federal Register, the FCC explained: “These bands provide high data rate local area network connections for business and home users to interconnect with and access the internet, and are often used for data offloading by commercial wireless networks to relieve congestion when consumer demand is high.”

The FCC added, “The commission believes that unlicensed use of the 5.850-5.895 GHz portion of the 5.9 GHz band is well-suited for such use and could help satisfy the burgeoning demand for high-speed wireless access.”

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