Nov 21, 2019 - Technology

FCC will free auto airwaves for WiFi

Ajit Pai

Ajit Pai. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

FCC chairman Ajit Pai offered a path forward Wednesday for the cable industry to gain access to auto airwaves for WiFi after a long-running spectrum battle with automakers.

Yes, but: The move will pit the FCC against the Department of Transportation, which wants to see these airwaves fully dedicated to auto safety communications.

The big picture: Car companies and cable providers have been feuding over a swath of spectrum known as the 5.9 GHz band that was set aside 20 years ago for vehicle safety communications but never widely used for that purpose.

Driving the news: Pai's proposal, to be voted on at the commission's Dec. 12 meeting, would allocate the lower 45 megahertz of the band for unlicensed use such as WiFi, while setting aside up to 30 megahertz for vehicle safety technology.

What they're saying: Despite Pai's plans, a DOT spokesperson said all 75 megahertz of spectrum in the "safety band" should be preserved for transportation safety.

  • The Intelligent Transportation Society of America was more blunt, accusing the FCC of trading safety for more connectivity. "It comes down to priorities — we can save and protect people’s lives, or we can ensure it's easier to place online orders from our cars," ITS America Shailen Bhatt said.
  • But Pai's proposal was cheered by cable companies, Public Knowledge and the 5G Automotive Association, which backs the cellular-vehicle-to-everything technology that Pai’s plan would accommodate.

Democratic FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a longtime proponent of opening these airwaves for WiFi, said, "Opening this band for WiFi could add up to $100 billion to our economy. This is long overdue."

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