Transportation Committee Members Miss the Mark on 5.9 Spectrum Reallocation

Over the last several decades technology has evolved considerably, unleashing boundless benefits for American consumers, businesses, and indeed, taxpayers. However, the next generation of technology, such as driverless cars, the internet of things, and wifi connectivity, will require an abundance of already-scarce spectrum to meet growing consumer demand. Fortunately, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently unveiled a plan to meet the needs of a digital society by reallocating unused 5.9 spectrum for unlicensed uses. In our view, the FCC should enact this adjustment to ensure the United States continues to be a global leader in innovation and technology.

The FCC’s decision to dedicate more spectrum for unlicensed use couldn’t have come at a better time as consumer demand for wi-fi continues to increase year after year. Cisco Systems predicts that nearly 57 percent of U.S. internet traffic will travel over Wi-Fi by 2022. The substantial demand has resulted in congestion, and there have been no new allocations of mid-band spectrum suitable for Wi-Fi in more than a decade. 

However, some members on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure are apparently “alarmed” by the FCC’s timely proposal. The letter, led by Chairman Defazio (D-OR) claims that reallocating spectrum could lead to tens of thousands of deaths, jeopardize transportation safety, and delay new vehicles coming to market. However, for over twenty years, automakers have had exclusive use of the spectrum band in order to develop and deploy car-to-car communication and have failed to deliver a widely used product to justify the sole use of this valuable spectrum band. To that end, no car company has plans to deploy this technology in the future. 

As Chairman Pai stated in his remarks announcing the reallocation, “moving forward, let’s resist the notion that we have to choose between automotive safety and Wi-Fi. My proposal would do far more for both automotive safety and Wi-Fi than the status quo.” Some automakers have agreed with this sentiment and are supportive of the FCC’s proposal. They realize that they aren’t blocked from accessing the spectrum, they simply have to share what they aren’t using. In fact, Europe has reserved only 30 MHz for the same use cases—not 75 MHz as it currently stands in the United States. And as new automotive technology becomes available, the FCC’s proposal leaves more than enough spectrum for actual automotive safety use.

Chairman Pai was correct when he said “We are focused on forward looking spectrum policies to make our transportation networks safer and more efficient—including policies for the 5.9 GHz band.” And with the proposed rule, the FCC again strikes a reasonable balance that promotes consumer safety and 21st century innovation. Even if Chairman Pai has opponents to his proposal on the Transportation Committee, he can take comfort in the fact that he has the support of taxpayers outside the beltway.