Wi-Fi advocacy groups, auto industry spar over Wi-Fi Innovation Act

Several groups, including PCIA, TIA, the Wi-Fi Alliance, WiFiForward and the Wi-Fi Innovation Alliance praised efforts by U.S. lawmakers to introduce the Wi-Fi Innovation Act, but a group of transportation industry officials still isn't happy with it.

U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) reintroduced  S. 424, the Wi-Fi Innovation Act, which is designed to expand unlicensed spectrum use by requiring the FCC to test the feasibility of opening the upper 5 GHz band to unlicensed use. Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House by Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), and cosponsored by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.).

The Wi-Fi Innovation Act directs the FCC to "move swiftly" in seeking comments and conducting tests to assess the feasibility of opening the 5850-5925 band to unlicensed use. But an attempt last year to get a measure passed met resistance from automaker incumbents in the 5 GHz band that were worried about potential interference with emerging car-to-car communications and crash-avoidance systems. They are pushing back on efforts this time as well.

Supporters of the legislation say it "recognizes the need to balance the importance of developing Intelligent Transportation and incumbent licensees in the 5 GHz band, while also maximizing the use of the band for shared purposes." PCIA points out that the Wi-Fi Innovation Act also would eliminate barriers to and create incentives for Wi-Fi deployment in low-income neighborhoods.

Even the American Library Association (ALA) jumped in to show its support, applauding the reintroduction of the act, saying that public libraries are the most common public Wi-Fi access point for African-Americans and Latinos--with roughly one-third of these communities using public library Wi-Fi. This is true for 23 percent of whites, who list school as their top public Wi-Fi spot. Virtually all (98 percent) public libraries now offer Wi-Fi, up from 18 percent a decade ago, the ALA said in a press release.

The Wi-Fi Alliance notes the proposed legislation would require the FCC to develop spectrum-sharing tests to examine how devices may use the 5.9 GHz spectrum band in the U.S. without negative impact to other users and to open the spectrum to Wi-Fi devices unless it identifies a compelling reason not to do so.  

"Although this spectrum was allocated fifteen years ago for future use in vehicular communications, it remains underutilized today," said Edgar Figueroa, president and CEO of Wi-Fi Alliance, in a release. "Wi-Fi includes a number of proven mechanisms that make it capable of sharing spectrum with other technologies, and these mechanisms can be adapted to enable shared use of the 5.9 GHz band. We are eager to work closely with the FCC, DoT and NTIA to provide technical expertise and industry feedback during their examination of the issue."

The Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America), Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Association of Global Automakers, AAA, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and others sent a letter opposing the act, saying it would open up previously dedicated auto safety spectrum to unlicensed Wi-Fi users and jeopardize the implementation of a safety critical crash avoidance system.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and related associations, as well as universities like the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, have invested significantly in developing and testing a vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication system collectively referred to as V2X.

While a wide range of constituencies is exploring whether a technical solution exists for sharing the spectrum, the group behind the connected car technology say the "collaborative process should proceed without pre-emptive legislation that sets arbitrary deadlines and restrictive parameters."

For more:
- see this GigaOm story
- see this Broadcasting & Cable story
- see this Reuters story

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