Auto industry fires back after tech industry asks Obama to release 5.9 GHz for Wi-Fi

An auto industry group, including Ford and General Motors, is urging President Barack Obama to ignore the recommendations that tech companies recently made about opening up the 5.9 GHz band for Wi-Fi and instead stick to a previous plan for dedicated short range communication (DSRC) that they say will lead to safer roads.

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The University of Michigan launched its
Mcity initiative last year. (Credit: University
of Michigan)

"We support spectrum sharing in areas where it is technically feasible and will preserve both lifesaving DSRC technology and ensure the protection of the existing Fixed Satellite Service operations in the 5.9 GHz band," the letter to Obama states, noting that the transportation and satellite industries have already successfully completed a sharing regime in the band.

"Changing the DSRC rules and ecosystem at this late stage would be an enormous setback for highway safety and delay the deployment of DSRC, thereby significantly limiting the potential of this technology to reduce injuries and fatalities on our roads," the letter says.

Last month, a group of tech companies, including Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and Intel, sent a letter to President Obama applauding his support for opening up underutilized spectrum and urging him to provide the leadership needed to get the FCC and Department of Transportation to finalize a sharing framework for the 5.9 GHz spectrum band.  

Now the auto industry stakeholders are saying that DSRC systems have moved from test bed to the roadside, into vehicles and based on recently completed work, smartphones used by pedestrians. Efforts are underway across the country, from the Ann Arbor Safety Pilot in Michigan to 1,500 DSRC units installed at intersections and on city buses in San Francisco to help navigate through traffic with additional safety benefits.

But Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project as part of New America's Open Technology Institute, says the auto industry is using safety as cover to grab a free spectrum windfall unrelated to safety.

"Their letter ignores the fact that this unused band is big enough to deploy – and protect – both crash avoidance safety applications and next generation Wi-Fi that can enable faster and more affordable wireless Internet access in classrooms, public places and the connected home," he said.

Regulators in Europe have already decided that auto safety applications require at most 20 or 30 megahertz of the 75 megahertz of spectrum allocated here in the U.S. at 5.9 GHz, he added. "A win-win outcome for consumers is clearly possible here if the White House forces DOT to work with FCC to share the band for both safety and broadband," Calabrese said.

More than a year ago, FCC commissioners Michael O'Rielly, a Republican, and Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, came together to say while they support safety initiatives associated with DSRC, they're also mindful that mobile opportunities are multiplying in ways never contemplated when this spectrum was set aside in 1999 -- driverless cars were the stuff of science fiction back then, and DSRC has been slow to develop.  

Auto makers say changing the plan for 5.9 GHz now would sweep away more than a decade of research and development, as well as delay for perhaps another decade DSRC's life-saving benefits. "Those asking for delay seek to reconfigure the 5.9 GHz DSRC band in a way that would impair safety-critical applications and jeopardize their public benefits," they said.

More than 50 entities signed the letter, including the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Carnegie Mellon University – University Transportation Center, and the National Sheriffs Association.

For more:
- see this Politico article

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