Stakeholders challenge FCC order reallocating transport’s radio ‘Safety Band’

June 7, 2021

Tyson Fisher


The Intelligent Transportation Society of America and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials are appealing the Federal Communications Commission’s reallocation of the 5.9 GHz spectrum band, also known as the “Safety Band.”

On June 2, ITS America and AASHTO filed an appeal in a District of Columbia federal court challenging last year’s FCC order making the 5.9 GHz band available for unlicensed use. Before the FCC order, that spectrum band was reserved only for smart vehicle technology.

The November FCC order makes the lower 45 megahertz (5.850-5.895 GHz) of the 5.9 GHz spectrum available to unlicensed uses like Wi-Fi, with the upper 30 megahertz (5.895-5.925 GHz) reserved for enhanced vehicle safety using cellular vehicle-to-everything tech, better known as C-V2X. For an explainer of what the 5.9 GHz band is and how it pertains to transportation, click here.

AASHTO and ITS America’s lawsuit is asking the federal court to reverse the FCC’s reallocation of 60% of the 5.9 GHz band to unlicensed, non-transportation uses.

By doing so, the entire 75 MHz of the spectrum band will be exclusively for transportation communications as it has been since 1999 through the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.

The FCC’s order is in response to criticism from some stakeholders and consumers. They claim that wireless technology needs the 5.9 GHz band as space in the existing wireless spectrum is filling up quickly, thereby slowing down existing wireless devices. They argue that the transportation sector has not used much of the spectrum anyway.

On the other hand, stakeholders like AASHTO and ITS America are claiming they need all of that 5.9 GHz band space. Getting rid of any of that allocated space, let alone most of it, could drastically slow down and jam up vehicle technology. The lawsuit claims that the FCC ignored the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Transportation, automotive safety professionals, automobile manufacturers and state highway officials when reallocating the majority of the spectrum.

Furthermore, the lawsuit claims the FCC’s order violates either Section 312 or Section 316 of the Communications Act. Section 312 deals with how the FCC can revoke a license, whereas Section 316 addresses how the commission can modify a license. Additionally, the appeal argues that the FCC “failed to properly evaluate record evidence related to the safety-related impacts of reallocation and the interference concerns posed by Wi-Fi devices.” Therefore, the order is unlawfully arbitrary and capricious, according to the lawsuit.

“Keeping people safe is the top priority for every state DOT,” Jim Tymon, AASHTO executive director, said in a statement. “We believe the FCC ruling has undermined state DOTs’ ability to utilize the 5.9GHz safety frequency as it was intended to be used.” LL

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