U.S. telecoms, traffic agencies clash on plan to use some auto safety spectrum for Wi-Fi


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. telecommunications regulator voted on Thursday to advance a plan to split a key spectrum block set aside for auto safety to accommodate the burgeoning number of wireless devices, but the Transportation Secretary warned that doing so could lead to “thousands more deaths” in traffic accidents.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao attends the banquet for newly enthroned Emperor Naruhito, hosted by the Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe and his spouse in Tokyo, Japan October 23, 2019. Du Xiaoyi/Pool via REUTERS

The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday 5-0 to advance the plan to split a block of the 5.9 GHz spectrum band that was reserved in 1999 for automakers to develop technology to allow vehicles to talk to each other, but has so far gone largely unused.

Some automakers and the U.S. Transportation Department oppose the proposal to shift a little more than half of the block to wi-fi use. Instead, they favor using the spectrum for developing technology to allow vehicles to exchange data about location, speed and direction.

Such technology is currently offered on just one vehicle: a General Motors Co Cadillac CTS. Government studies have suggested the technology, if widely adopted among U.S. vehicles, could prevent at least 600,000 crashes annually.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao warned that the FCC decision could result in “thousands more deaths annually on road and millions more injuries than would be the case otherwise.”

A group representing many major automakers, advocates for the blind, bicyclists and other interested parties urged the FCC not to act until it could complete testing to establish if the spectrum can be shared safely.

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said more spectrum is needed for Wi-Fi, which connects everything from “TVs, thermostats, baby monitors, refrigerators, washing machines, toys, and even toilets.”

Major cable and content companies have urged the FCC to open the spectrum band to Wi-Fi use. Comcast Corp said “this spectrum is too valuable a national resource to lie fallow any longer.”

In December 2016, the Transportation Department

proposed requiring all future vehicles to use dedicated short range communications (DSRC) to communicate with each other, but the Trump administration has not acted on the proposal.

Some automakers including Ford Motor Co and Tesla Inc back the plan to shift most or all of the remaining auto safety spectrum away from DSRC to a newer technology called Cellular Vehicle to Everything (C-V2X).

GM said it was “disappointed” by the FCC vote. It urged the agency to work with the Transportation Department “to preserve adequate spectrum required for these lifesaving technologies to operate without interference and at scale.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio



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