FCC to take ‘fresh look’ at opening key 5.9 GHz spectrum band

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission plans to vote in June on launching a new review of a key band of spectrum that has been reserved for automakers that could boost Wi-Fi use, a person briefed on the matter said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Chairman Ajit Pai speaks ahead of the vote on the repeal of so called net neutrality rules at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, U.S., December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

In 1999, the FCC reserved 75 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for automakers to develop technology to allow vehicles to communicate with each other called Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) that could eliminate hundreds of thousands of annual car crashes.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in remarks prepared for delivery at the Wi-Fi World Congress on Tuesday that “the time has come for the FCC to take a fresh look at this band” that has gone largely unused.

“This valuable mid-band spectrum is largely lying fallow, and it has been so for two decades now — just as the internet has gone from dial-up modems to gigabit Wi-Fi,” Pai said.

“It is time to launch a comprehensive review of the future of the 5.9 GHz band, make a sober assessment of the facts, and then make a timely decision.”

NCTA, a group representing major cable and content companies like Comcast Corp and CBS Corp, has urged the FCC to open the spectrum band to Wi-Fi use, saying it is “too valuable to our country’s economic future to allow it to go unused any longer.”

A person briefed on the plan said Pai plans to unveil the proposed rulemaking for an initial vote in June. The proposal will ask a series of questions and will not make any determinations.

On April 26, Toyota Motor Corp said it was halting plans to install DSRC technology on U.S. vehicles, saying it needed to see additional “federal government support to preserve the 5.9 GHz spectrum band for DSRC.”

Automakers have been divided in the United States over whether to proceed with the DSRC system or use a 4G- or 5G-based system.

DSRC transmissions enable vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications and broadcast precise vehicle information up to 10 times per second, including location, speed and acceleration.

In December 2016, the U.S. Transportation Department proposed to mandate DSRC in all new vehicles, but the Trump administration has not acted on the proposal.

Ford Motor Co said in January it planned to deploy an alternative cellular vehicle-to-everything technology,  or C-V2X , in all new U.S. vehicle models beginning in 2022.

“We’ll need to consider what the future of automotive safety technology is likely to look like and the spectrum needs of such technologies, including whether they will require specifically dedicated airwaves,” Pai said Tuesday.

Pai cited a November study from Rand that said opening that spectrum band could add between $60 billion and $105 billion annually to the U.S. gross domestic product.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in October said it was crucial to auto safety to preserve the spectrum band and noted there “are more than 70 active deployments of (vehicle to infrastructure) communications with thousands of vehicles already on the road.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Susan Thomas

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