FCC Proposes Opening Up Auto Airwaves, Threat to Driver Safety

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We may be getting excited about the holiday season, seeing family, and time off from work, but here’s what we are not looking forward to: the inevitable bumper-to-bumper traffic on the eve of Thanksgiving—and unfortunately, the car accidents on the road, keeping us stuck in traffic. These accidents and congestion prevent us from getting back home to see the family at a reasonable hour.

Thankfully, technology is changing how people and goods move and automated vehicles are becoming an alternative mode of transportation to ensure safety on our roadways. Through minimized human error, enhanced rideshare opportunities, and improved mobility in underserved communities, deployment of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) can reduce traffic accidents, safely increase highway capacity, enhance existing transportation infrastructure, improve vehicle performance, decrease travel time and congestion, and increase accessibility in underserved communities.

Yet, the benefits of this new and growing technology can only be realized by preserving the 5.9 GHz band of spectrum within dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), a vehicle-to-vehicle (V2X) communications technology that automakers have never launched. DSRC is a channel specifically designed for CAV use through V2X communication protocols and standards. With 80 deployments of DRSC around the country, this technology can save lives by providing drivers with timely warnings of crashes and other potential, life-harming traffic incidents. Therefore, it is crucial that the dedicated 5.9 GHz band of spectrum remains free from interference to ensure safety between CAVs and the driving environment. If opened and shared to unlicensed applications, safety could be compromised.

We need federal regulators to be on the side of safety and ensure this can be a reality. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who is proposing opening up for unlicensed uses, such as WI-FI, 45 MHz out of the 75 MHz worth of spectrum in the band, for years slated for DRSC. Opening up the spectrum would lead to interference, compromising how CAVs communicate on the roadway— potentially putting lives at risk.

These latest developments have been concerning to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and the agency has echoed it must be preserved for transportation safety purposes—a view ASCE shares. DOT has stated the “safety band,” a name they deemed for the 5.9 GHz band of spectrum, is not going to waste, and there are already thousands of vehicles on the road that use that spectrum to allow V2X and warn drivers of hazards on the road as well as prevent crashes.

The FCC voiced the intention to open the spectrum in May, but received pushback from DOT, and then delayed until this week, when Chairman Pai announced the FCC will vote on December 12 to repurpose the that 45 MHz of the spectrum. If opened up, ASCE believes there will be risks to drivers on the road and the public. FCC’s decision is harmful to the development and expansion of CAV technology, is a threat to public safety, and puts lives at risk. The spectrum must be preserved for safety purposes in order to create stable connectivity and safe CAV communications and ASCE in addition to lawmakers, DOT, and other transportation stakeholders will continue to push back against this decision.

State departments of transportation from all 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico have also voiced their opinions in a letter sent to the FCC in August, asking the FCC not to open up the band. The letter emphasized the nation’s commitment to improving transportation safety and that preserving the 5.9 GHz wireless spectrum should be preserved for transportation safety purposes.

ASCE encourages CAV programs that will incentivize industry to deploy these systems to: help the nation keep pace with worldwide development; improve human safety; enhance our transportation infrastructure system; and move people and goods efficiently. Opening up the spectrum takes us a step back from ensuring CAVs improve both human safety and transportation infrastructure.

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