November 6, 2020 11:30 AM, EST

Transportation Leaders Call for GAO Study on 5.9 GHz Spectrum

transportation spectrum illustrationjamesteohart/Getty Images

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The leadership of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives called on the U.S. Government Accountability Office to review the safety implications stemming from the possibility of sharing the 5.9 GHz spectrum band — which is reserved for transportation safety communication — for nontransportation purposes.

The Federal Communications Commission has announced that it intends to meet to consider whether to reassign part of the band for purposes such as wireless communication.

“Transportation stakeholders have concerns that an insufficient amount of available spectrum, such as the amount proposed in the FCC’s proceeding, may significantly affect the efficacy of current and future applications of vehicle safety technologies,” Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman and ranking member, respectively, wrote to GAO on Oct. 30. “Advanced technologies hold tremendous potential to improve transportation safety, reduce congestion and decrease pollution, among other prospective uses. Some of these technologies rely on wireless communication between vehicles, between vehicles and infrastructure [such as traffic signals], or vehicles and other users [such as pedestrians].”

T&I-letter-to-GAO by Transport Topics

FCC’s leadership has scheduled a meeting for Nov. 18 on its proposal regarding the transportation spectrum band. Since announcing its intentions several months ago, the FCC has maintained that there is a need to expand wireless communication.

“The demand for wireless broadband is growing at a phenomenal pace, as the American public and businesses increasingly rely on internet connectivity,” the agency said in background about the upcoming meeting. “To meet this demand, the commission continuously evaluates spectrum use and its rules in efforts to enable more efficient spectrum usage through a variety of methods, including authorizing unlicensed operations.” Microsoft and Comcast are among the firms arguing that opening the transportation spectrum band would address growing public demand for access to Wi-Fi.

Besides congressional transportation leaders, myriad industry stakeholders representing freight firms and highway users have been urging the FCC to avoid pursuing its spectrum band proposal. Several transportation groups argue that advanced technologies, such as self-driving vehicles, have the potential of improving safety on the roadways. A requisite for such safety and efficiency via new technologies is the current spectrum available on the transportation communications band. Vehicle-to-everything communication deployments are being tested around the country.

Intelligent Transportation Society of America president and CEO Shailen Bhatt, for instance, recently raised several concerns about safety.

“Reallocating the majority of the 5.9 GHz band without fully considering the effects on public safety is reckless,” he said. “In fact, the definition of tragedy and irony is the FCC giving away the safety spectrum to ‘entrenched corporate interests’ to profit from and ignoring transportation safety experts from [U.S. Department of Transportation], all 50 state DOTs, [Mothers Against Drunk Driving], the National Sheriffs’ Association, Families for Safe Streets, the International Association of Firefighters, the League of American Bicyclists, the National Safety Council, the National Transportation Safety Board and dozens of additional organizations dedicated to safety on American roadways.”

Bhatt added, “It is extremely shortsighted and detrimental to the millions of people who travel on U.S. roads every day for the FCC to reallocate 45 MHz of spectrum from transportation safety to unlicensed devices such as Wi-Fi.”

The FCC in 1999 agreed to dedicate frequencies for transportation safety purposes, which are known as Dedicated Short Range Communication Services, or DSRC.

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