Three prominent senators are urging the agencies in charge of allocating wireless communications spectrum to come up with a plan to share the valuable commodity in the 5.9 GHz band, a part of the spectrum sought by the auto industry to provide better safety on the highways.
“The demand for spectrum resources continues to expand, requiring the Federal government to work harder to find ways to utilize limited spectrum resources more effectively and efficiently,” Sens. Cory Booker, (D-NJ), Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.), and John Thune, (R-SD), wrote in a letter to the heads of the Commerce and Transportation Departments and the Federal Communications Commission.
U.S. car companies say they are on the cusp of rolling out life-saving wireless technology as soon as 2016 that will allow vehicles and transportation infrastructure to “talk” to each other. But they will need access to the spectrum in order to put the new technology into place.
“New technologies hold tremendous promise for improving vehicle safety and significantly reducing the number of accidents and fatalities,” an industry group, led by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, wrote in a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.
The FCC first gave vehicle manufacturers and their supply chain companies dedicated spectrum for that purpose more than a decade ago. Vehicle-to-Vehicle systems were designed to provide a short-range, wireless link to transfer information between vehicles and roadside systems that can help prevent collisions. Now companies like Google and Microsoft are saying that they can deliver similar results with different technology over the Internet and bring a host of other benefits to market, including high-speed Wi-Fi — if the FCC opens up the automakers’ spectrum to unlicensed use.
General Motors Co. has promised to introduce 2017 model Cadillacs next year featuring vehicle-to-vehicle technology that enables the car to communicate with other connected cars to warn of collision hazards, improve road safety and make high-speed, hands-free driving technology available. Other automakers are aiming to introduce cars that park themselves or navigate traffic jams.
“We are dedicated to protecting lives on American public roadways and exploring opportunities for making spectrum available for private sector deployment,” said the manufacturer’s letter.
The flurry of letters is just the latest in the ongoing battle for scarce wireless communications spectrum. Private industry has lobbied hard for access to more spectrum to accommodate the skyrocketing increase in the number of wireless devices in use by consumers. Industry groups have argued access to unused portions of the spectrum is necessary to remaining competitive in the global marketplace. The FCC is expected to hold another spectrum auction in 2016.
Judi Hasson is a MeriTalk contributing writer.