Senate Leads Way on V2V Spectrum Sharing Consensus

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By Lydia Beyoud

Sept. 9 — The Senate Commerce Committee and the automotive and telecommunications industries announced progress initiating the testing of spectrum sharing between connected vehicles and Wi-Fi and other technology in the 5.9 gigahertz band, according to a pair of letters from lawmakers and industry stakeholders to the heads of three federal agencies.

The letters, obtained by Bloomberg BNA, outline a process for the Federal Communications Commission to take the lead in partnership with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Commerce to conduct spectrum testing and modeling to ensure Wi-Fi users don't interfere with vehicle-to-vehicle technology's crash-avoidance and other life-saving applications in the band. The testing would ideally be completed by the end of 2016.

The letter from Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and committee members Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and its companion from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, Intelsat, Qualcomm Inc. and others offer a bipartisan solution to spectrum policy that has been the focus of lobbying efforts and industry concerns in recent months.

The Wi-Fi Innovation Act (S. 424), introduced by Booker and Rubio on Feb. 10, had divided stakeholders and Senate Commerce members over its approach to requiring the FCC to explore the feasibility of spectrum sharing in the 5.9 GHz band, which was allocated by the FCC to automakers over a decade ago for digital short range communication (DSRC) technology to enable V2V and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications to reduce traffic accidents and fatalities. Wi-Fi interests would also like to use the band to increase data capacity and provide the same or similar services without the need for a dedicated technology like DSRC.

Critics of the bill said it set arbitrary testing timelines for spectrum sharing, potentially endangering DSRC's ability to provide “safety-of-life” services for which it was intended.

A Senate Commerce aide told Bloomberg BNA that while industry seemed divided on the legislation, many stakeholders seemed open to testing. Working with Booker's and Rubio's offices as well as industry stakeholders, Senate Commerce staff were able to find common ground on an issue which threatened to result in dissension among lawmakers if the committee attempted a markup of the legislation, the aide said.

Testing Procedures

The proposal seeks to balance the need for additional wireless spectrum with the potential of DSRC to reduce current crash rates by 81 percent once V2V and V2I are widely deployed. “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. At the same time, new technologies hold tremendous promise for improving vehicle safety and significantly reducing the number of fatalities,” the senators said in their letter.

The letters encourage the FCC, DOT and DOC to ensure spectrum testing and modeling are conducted by engineers so that the government can determine how to proceed on interference-avoidance and allocating spectrum use rights in the 5.9 GHz band. Policymakers previously noted the lack of data from federal agencies and industry groups was stalling potential spectrum sharing in the band.

While many auto industry groups have previously aligned with an interference-avoidance proposal put forward by Cisco Inc., the process would ensure that multiple methods are tested, though only two have been proposed to the FCC. The procedures wouldn't prevent the FCC or new entities suggesting alternate methods, or prevent either Cisco or Qualcomm—which supply both the automotive and Wi-Fi industries—from modifying their current proposals.

Much of the results of the testing would be made public through the FCC in an open proceeding on the issue.

DOT should continue to take the lead on developing 5.9 GHz DSRC technology, vehicle safety testing and DSRC capabilities testing, in coordination with the other agencies, the letters said.

The proposal would run parallel to but not affect a DOT effort to promote the widespread use of V2V through a proposed rule expected from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) by the end of 2015 to require V2V equipment in all new cars and light trucks, another Senate Commerce aide said. NHTSA had previously projected to submit the proposed rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget in 2016.

The Commerce Committee intends to remain engaged in this process, though the agencies, industry and lawmakers will only be able to assess what the next steps should be at the end of the testing period, a third Senate Commerce GOP aide said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at lbeyoud@bna.com

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

Text of the senators' letter is at http://www.commerce.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?a=files.serve&File_id=5C8EE4E2-A985-4AA1-A855-CC7F1DB9E14F .

Text of the industry groups' letter is at http://src.bna.com/hb.