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FCC Seeks Further Comments on 5.9 GHz Band

June 1, 2016. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a Public Notice (PN) that requests more comments in its rulemaking proceeding regarding shared use of the 5.9 GHz band. At stake is the future use of this band for Wi-Fi and car safety technology.

See, FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The FCC adopted and released this NPRM on February 20, 2013. It is FCC 03-324 in ET Docket No. 13-49.

The just released PN asks commenters to "update and refresh the record on the status of potential sharing solutions between proposed Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) devices and Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) operations in the 5.850-5.925 GHz (U-NII-4) band".

That is, the FCC wants more comments on shared use of this band for U-NII (which would mainly mean Wi-Fi) and DSRC (which is the Department of Transportation's (DOT) vehicle to vehicle and vehicle to infrastructure communications plan).

Vehicle to vehicle communications means keeping cars from crashing into each other, and other safety related functions. DSRC also enables connectivity for passengers' wireless devices, automatic parking and toll payments, and other things.

The 5.9 GHz band is currently allocated on a primary basis to the Mobile and Fixed Satellite Services for non-Federal operations, and to the Radiolocation Service for Federal operations. This band is also allocated on a secondary basis to the Amateur Service. The non-Federal Mobile Service operating on a primary basis in this band is limited DSRC systems of the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) radio service. See also, DOT web page titled "Dedicated Short Range Communications". (Radiolocation Service means radar, primarily for the military, but also for NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Energy.)

The DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also has an open rulemaking proceeding in which it proposes to mandate a DSRC vehicle to vehicle communication standard in the 5.9 GHz. See, notice in the Federal Register, Vol. 79, No. 161, August 20, 2014, at Pages 49270-49278.

The FCC seeks comments on, among other things, the two competing spectrum sharing technologies for this band produced by Qualcomm and Cisco.

This FCC proceeding is about who gets to use this spectrum, and on what terms. Many internet companies and electronic device makers, and their trade and advocacy groups, seek more spectrum for unlicensed uses, such as Wi-Fi for smart phones and tablets. Car companies, along with their allies in state governments and first responders, want the FCC to stay the course on ITS. The ITS proponents express concerns about interference from unlicensed use.

The FCC, as a sectoral regulator, is more responsive to its constituent groups, than to the industry sectors that it does not regulate. The DOT and its HHTSA are more responsive to their constitute groups.

Commissioner Ajit Pai wrote in a statement about this PN, "I have been calling on the FCC to open up more of the 5 GHz band for unlicensed use. That’s because this spectrum is tailor-made for the next generation of high-speed, wireless broadband. Making available more spectrum in the band will mean more robust and ubiquitous wireless coverage for consumers, more manageable networks for providers". He said nothing about automobile safety or manageable road networks.

Similarly, Commissioners Mike O'Riely and Jessica Rosenworcel wrote in a joint statement that unlicensed use in the 5.9 GHz band "could mean increased capacity, reduced congestion, and higher speeds". Also, unlicensed use for W-Fi "is possible without causing harmful interference to incumbent licensees", the ITS DSRC systems.

To a point, this is a car versus tech issue. However, this issue does not entirely pit tech companies against car companies. First, the sectors are becoming less distinct. Tech companies such as Google are becoming car companies. Car companies are increasingly incorporating information and communications technologies (ICT). Also, ICT companies are involved in developing ITS.

Intelsat, Panasonic, Savari, and SES Americom joined in a letter to President Obama and the FCC. A large collection of car companies and groups, ITS groups, state Departments of Transportation, first responder groups, and technology companies involved in ITS, sent a letter on May 4, 2016 urging the President to "stay the course".

They wrote that "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."

They responded to groups such as the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) which advocate unlicensed use of the band.

The NCTA stated in a release on June 1 that "The FCC took a significant step forward today toward making sharing on the 5.9 GHz band a reality. Not only does the FCC ask the right questions about how to test both the Qualcomm and Cisco sharing proposals, but it also asks how to distinguish crash-avoidance from non-safety DSRC applications. NCTA is committed to finding a sharing solution that works and today’s FCC action points the country in the right direction."

Also, the NCTA released a 61 page report on May 2 titled "The Economic Costs and Benefits of a Federal Mandate that All Light Vehicles Employ 5.9 GHz DSRC Technology".

Harold Feld of the Public Knowledge (PK), another proponent of Wi-Fi use of the band, wrote in a release that "For the last four years, the auto industry -- with the help of the Department of Transportation -- has fought to keep the brakes on addressing our Wi-Fi spectrum crisis. Finally, the FCC has jumpstarted this proceeding and demanded that the auto industry and DoT stop stalling and submit their claims about life and safety to an open, scientific testing process they cannot bias or suppress."

Feld also wrote that "installation of DSRC technology in cars would make consumers less safe. In particular, because car makers plan to use this ``life and safety´´ spectrum for mobile payments and other for-profit uses, DSRC will create new opportunities for cyberhackers and identity thieves."

This PN is DA 16-68 in ET Docket No. 13-49. Initial comments will be due within 30 days of publication of a notice in the Federal Register. Reply comments will be due within 45 days of such publication. As of the June 2, 2016 issue of the FR, such notice had not yet been published.

This PN does announce that the deadline to submit testing equipment is July 30, 2016. The PN also states that the FCC will complete testing by January 15, 2017.

Congress. Representatives and Senators are also involved this issue.

Section 6406 of the 2012 spectrum act imposed some requirements upon the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the FCC regarding making additional spectrum available for unlicensed technologies in the 5 GHz band. The spectrum act is Title VI of HR 3630 [LOC | WW], the "Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012", enacted in the 112th Congress.

(The NTIA released a study titled "Evaluation of the 5350-5470 MHz and 5850-5925 MHz Bands Pursuant to Section 6406(b) of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act" of 2012 on January 25, 2013.)

Also, bills have been introduced in both the 113th (previous) and 114th (current) Congresses that would direct the FCC allow the 5.9 GHz band to be used for unlicensed operations.

See, the "Wi-Fi Innovation Act", which would direct the FCC to write rules "to provide additional unlicensed spectrum in the 5850-5925 MHz band under technical rules suitable for the widespread commercial development of unlicensed operations in the band". For the 114th Congress, see HR 821 [LOC | WW] and S 424 [LOC | WW].

For the 113th Congress, see HR 5125 [LOC | WW] and S 2505 [LOC | WW], also titled the "Wi-Fi Innovation Act". See also, story titled "Representatives Introduce Bill to Push FCC on Wi-Fi Use in 5.9 GHz Band" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 2,677, July 21, 2014.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on September 9, 2015.

(Published in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 2,814, June 2, 2016.)