Feds advance plan to limit transportation WiFi capacity

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to advance a proposed rulemaking that would reduce by 40% the amount of broadband set aside for vehicle-related communications and open it up instead to the general public.

Justification for taking a “fresh look” at the 5.9 GHz band, which was first made public in a speech by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in November, was that the 75 MHz of space set aside within the band for the transportation sector has gone largely unused since it was reserved in 1999.

The proposed rule “seeks to achieve a balanced approach that will both improve automobile safety and unleash more wireless innovation for the benefit of the American people,” the FCC stated after voting to approve the proposal on Dec. 12. In addition, asserted FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, “There’s simply not enough WiFi capacity to go around, and the broadband stream to your home ends up getting reduced to a trickle by the time it gets to your device.”

The agency proposes, among other things, to “repurpose” the lower 45 MHz of the band for “unlicensed operations to support high-throughput broadband applications.”

The Intelligent Transportation Society of America, a research group that also deploys mobility technology, warned that the move, if finalized during the rulemaking process, would put drivers and pedestrians at risk.

“The FCC has made a reckless decision … and it has done so without any data or analysis,” the group stated. “The Commission must preserve the entire safety spectrum for today’s and tomorrow’s life-saving transportation technologies. Nothing is more important than saving tens of thousands of lives every year.”

American Trucking Associations (ATA) had recommended the FCC not advance the plan after it was made public, pointing to the safety benefits that could be lost as cars and trucks increasingly rely on wireless communications.

“With more than 36,000 people in 2018 losing their lives in traffic fatalities, it is inconceivable and unacceptable that the FCC would consider slashing available transportation safety spectrum, which could have the greatest impact in reducing traffic fatalities moving forward,” ATA commented before the vote. “We urge the commissioners not to proceed with this proposal and to prioritize transportation safety over faster WiFi.”

In a recent blogpost, ATA also noted that vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology is already advancing in both the passenger and commercial vehicle sectors, with demonstration projects already in “more than half the states.”

A U.S. Department of Transportation video demonstrates the potential of V2V technology.