The FCC and Automakers Must Save Our Wifi

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In 1999, the Federal Communications Commission allocated 75MHz of the 5.9GHz spectrum band to the Department of Transportation (DoT) and the auto industry. Currently, the auto industry plans to use the spectrum for “Dedicated Short Range Communication” (DSRC), a device that talks to every other car with a DSRC unit (also referred to as “vehicle-2-vehicle” or “v2v” communication). According to auto companies, they can’t share the swath of spectrum given to them in the 5.9 GHz band, because it would endanger consumers. That simply is not the case.

The auto industry and the DoT, via the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), plan to mandate that every new car include DSRC. Why? Because the only way DSRC works to stop collisions is if both cars in the collision have active DSRC systems. By contrast, the unlicensed car radar the auto industry is already deploying (as you can see in this charming advertisement for the 2016 Volkswagen Passat) works whether or not the potential collision target (car, bicycle, moose, whatever) has any form of collision avoidance system. So whereas the existing unlicensed car radar the auto industry wants to replace with DSRC would detect a cyclist or pedestrian and auto-brake, DSRC would not assist a driver in avoiding cyclist, pedestrians, or any other object that doesn’t not also have a DSRC unit.

The technologies available today offer consumers a safer experience than DSRC without a mandate placed on the auto industry. In addition, auto companies argue that sharing the 5.9 GHz spectrum, which they aren’t currently using, would place consumers in danger due to the risk of interference. Yet the only way to know whether spectrum sharing would cause meaningful inference with DSRC is to conduct testing, something the auto industry has refused to do for years. The bottom line is that the car companies are squatting on spectrum that they aren’t using and refuse to share. The Federal Communications Commission should adopt a “framework order” setting basic rules for sharing and refining them with later testing. This would open up spectrum that we all need to continue innovating.