FCC Chairman Proposes Opening 5.9 GHz Band for Unlicensed Use

On November 20, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced the FCC will propose to allow unlicensed use in the 5.9 gigahertz (GHz) band. 

In 1999, the FCC allocated 75 megahertz (MHz) of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band to Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), a technology that enables cars to communicate with each other. DSRC is not widely used, with many groups pushing for shared use in the band. 

The following statement can be attributed to Katie McAuliffe, Executive Director of Digital Liberty: “We appreciate the FCC’s steps to review 75 MHz of valuable spectrum for both unlicensed use and auto safety. As we look to the future of connected technologies, it is important that spectrum usage remain flexible for innovative uses including WiFi, C-V2X, and DSRC. The FCC’s announcement moves in that direction by allowing C-V2X to operate in the band and brings more capacity for American’s ever increasing appetite for WiFi related uses.”

Chairman Pai is proposing to open the bottom 45 MHz of the band for unlicensed use, such a Wi-Fi, and the upper 20 MHz for the new automotive safety technology Cellular Vehicle to Everything (C-V2X). The FCC would consider allocating the remaining 10 MHz in the band to C-V2X or DSRC. 

“DSRC’s lack of progress over the past 20 years becomes even starker when you consider that 1999 also marked the birth of Wi-Fi. Since its launch, Wi-Fi has become a staple of everyday life,” Chairman Pai said. 

Though both DSRC and C-V2X promote vehicular safety, the technologies are incompatible. Some automotive companies are moving exclusively toward C-V2X, including Ford, which will use it instead of DSRC. 

The Chairman’s proposal has support from his FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, Senator Ron Johnson, as well as industry groups such as ACT | The App Association, NCTA, and the American Library Association. 

However, the U.S. Department of Transportation is advocating that all 75 MHz of the band be maintained solely for safety purposes, stating yesterday that these technologies “depend on clear, uncluttered wireless signals.” 

In his remarks, Chairman Pai made clear that Wi-Fi and safety are not incompatible. “So moving forward, let’s resist the notion that we have to choose between automotive safety and Wi-Fi,” he said. 

The FCC will vote on the proposal at its open commission meeting on December 12.

Photo credit: Paulo Valdivieso (Flickr)