Auto, Telecom Companies Spar Over Spectrum Band

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By Stephanie Beasley

May 5 — A coalition of vehicle manufacturers, state transportation departments and public safety groups—including Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.—is hitting back at telecom companies' claims that spectrum allotted for connected cars has withered unused and should be reallocated by the government.

The coalition says the telecoms are creating a false narrative that the auto industry is unwilling to share wireless spectrum that could be used for unlicensed wireless Internet technologies as well as connected vehicles.

The Federal Communications Commission in 1999 set aside spectrum within a 5.9 gigahertz spectrum band for the auto industry to use for vehicle-to-vehicle communication but has proposed opening up 195 megahertz within that same band for Wi-Fi use. Several cable and telecom groups said in an April 28 letter to the White House that carmakers had not made “meaningful use” of the spectrum and that the government should establish criteria for the two industries to share the band.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” auto manufacturers said in a subsequent letter to the White House that was made public on May 5.

The auto group said the transportation industry has actively engaged with Wi-Fi companies in discussions about how they might share the band and that at least two potential sharing options would be assessed by federal regulators this summer. The Department of Transportation has said it would complete preliminary testing of any spectrum-sharing tools developed by the auto and Wi-Fi industries within 12 months of receiving them.

The auto industry supports spectrum sharing when it is technically feasible and can be done in a way that preserves life-saving car communication technology, according to the letter.

Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at New America, said the auto industry is using safety as a cover to grab a “free spectrum windfall” that is unrelated to safety.

If the White House wants to get the best outcome for consumers, it will force FCC and DOT to work together to share the band for safety and broadband, he said.

Obama Priority

Autonomous and connected cars have become a high priority for President Barack Obama in his last year. The president included $3.9 billion for autonomous vehicle testing in his fiscal year 2017 budget request.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently submitted to the Office of Management and Budget a draft notice of proposed regulations to require vehicle-to-vehicle equipment, like sensors and collision alert systems, on all new cars and light trucks. The agency also has said it plans to release model state policy and industry guidelines for the deployment of autonomous cars before the end of this year (See previous story, 04/11/16).

With assistance from Lydia Beyoud in Washington.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Beasley in Washington sbeasley@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

For More Information

The auto industry letter is available here: http://src.bna.com/eJf.

The telecom industry letter is here: http://src.bna.com/eJd.