Commissioners stress importance of unlicensed, 5G before lawmakers

Appearing before the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology this week, FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Michael O'Rielly stuck to their upper 5 GHz guns and continued to call for increasing efforts to open up the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed use.

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The hearing, in which lawmakers quizzed FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and his fellow commissioners about the inner-workings of the FCC and its policies, was chaired by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., as part of a commission oversight mission.

Rosenworcel said the 2.4 GHz band, where Wi-Fi makes its primary home, is "getting mighty crowded," and the demand for 5 GHz Wi-Fi is also growing. While the best spectrum policy in her view involves a mix of licensed and unlicensed airwaves, the reality is the unlicensed airwaves often get overlooked because they don't get the high marks in the scoring process at the Congressional Budget Office. "This accounting misses the mark," she said, noting that the broader benefits of unlicensed spectrum to the economy are great.

Right now at the FCC, there's "a golden opportunity" for a Wi-Fi dividend in the upper portion of the 5 GHz band, she said. "We have a consensus framework for testing this band for unlicensed use while protecting incumbent efforts to use it to promote vehicle safety. So now we need to work with our colleagues at the Department of Transportation and Department of Commerce to get this testing underway. We also have unlicensed opportunities in the guard bands in the 600 MHz band and millimeter wave spectrum at 64-71 GHz. We need to seize all of them."

O'Rielly also said the government needs to increase its efforts to open the 5.9 GHz band for unlicensed use. "It is not my intention to prevent or undermine dedicated short range communications (DSRC) deployment," he said, referring to the technology being developed by the auto industry. "Let me be clear that the sharing of this band needs to be accomplished without causing harmful interference to safety-of-life applications."

Rosenworcel and O'Rielly have been pushing for the FCC to allow sharing use of the upper 5 GHz spectrum. For years, the DSRC spectrum has gone unused while the auto industry was supposed to be developing anti-collision technology to improve safety of automobiles.

O'Rielly said the commission needs to conduct testing based on a sound test plan and "bona fide science." Shortly, he said, the commission plans on refreshing the record and calling for manufacturer prototypes for testing. "Everyone has been on notice for some time that we are moving forward – manufacturers and the auto industry should be prepared to supply any equipment necessary to enable the commission to test all industry plans," he said in written testimony.

He added that protections should be limited to DSRC functions that protect safety-of-life, which must be reasonably, but narrowly, defined. And, he said, the commission should move promptly to resolve the issues because this spectrum represents the greatest opportunity to expand unlicensed use, particularly Wi-Fi, for the near future.

Fellow Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai called for opening up the 5 GHz as well, noting that four years ago, the same subcommittee drew attention to the 5 GHz band as one ideally suited for unlicensed use. He also said he wants to see a rulemaking to study spectrum bands above 95 GHz, saying that spectrum illustrates the principle that regulation should neither impede nor lag behind advances in engineering.

There's yet another 12,500 MHz of spectrum in the 24 GHz, 32 GHz, 42 GHz and 70 and 80 GHz bands that might be used for mobile services, he said. Earlier, he had called on the FCC to include those bands in the Spectrum Frontiers rulemaking but that didn't happen.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said she's excited about the possibilities of 5G and its ability to fundamentally transform the way we live and interact with each other. "I believe that the best way to deploy the spectrum and infrastructure required to provide 5G services is for the industry to regularly meet with local governments and communities, find out what their specific needs are, and coordinate alongside them by affirming how 5G can actually help them address their short and long-term needs," she said.

For more:
- see the hearing

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