Federal Communications Commission Votes to Reallocate 5.9 GHz “Safety Spectrum”
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously on November 18th to split up the 5.9 GHz communication frequency previously reserved for use in transportation.According to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, there is “a pressing need for us to allocate additional spectrum” for Wi-Fi, noting the coronavirus pandemic underscored the fact that “consumers need access and more bandwidth to be able to engage in telework, remote learning, telehealth, and other broadband-related services.”
The FCC commissioners therefore reallocated the lower 45 megahertz of the Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) spectrum between 5.850-5.925 GHz for unlicensed use and the upper 30 megahertz for intelligent transportation systems (ITS) that must use C-V2X (cellular vehicle-to-everything) technology.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has been an outspoken critic of reallocating the spectrum. A year ago, she submitted a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai asking him to keep the 5.9 GHz safety spectrum reserved for possible lifesaving transportation benefits.
“Due to the significant potential vehicle-to-everything (V2X ) technologies have to reduce these societal crises, it is imperative to the Department that the full 75 MHz of the 5.9 GHz Band is preserved for its existing purposes, including transportation safety and other intelligent transportation purposes”, said Chao. She has warned the FCC decision could result in “thousands more deaths annually on road and millions more injuries than would be the case otherwise.”
The entire band was reserved in 1999 for the development of “connected vehicles” that would communicate with each other and with infrastructure. Several years ago, however, cable, telecom and content companies asked the FCC to open most of the spectrum band for Wi-Fi use.
Despite the fact that the change passed with bipartisan support (all three Republican members of the commission voted in favor, and the two Democrats concurred), it is possible that the decision could be overturned, particularly because Pai's controversial tenure as chairman of the FCC is likely coming to an end. Traditionally, the party in control of the Presidency controls 3 of the 5 FCC seats, including the chairman. If that follows form, the FCC majority reverts to Democratic control next January, in which case, Pai is likely to lose his top spot at the FCC and may even leave the agency altogether.
On the other hand, the FCC's new rules enable full-power indoor unlicensed operations in the unlicensed portion of the band to begin immediately, as well as “opportunities for outdoor unlicensed use on a coordinated basis under certain circumstances.” Meanwhile, transportation users in the band must vacate the lower 45 megahertz within a year.