Momentum: Issue #73

June 7, 2021

Big Week in Fight for 5.9 GHz Safety Band

As many of you know, ITS America and AASHTO on June 2 filed an appeal of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Report and Order regarding unlicensed devices in the 5.9 GHz spectrum band. The ITS America Board of Directors voted to move ahead with the appeal on June 1.

ITS America and AASHTO took this action to ensure Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) technologies can continue to safely operate throughout the 5.9 GHz band. The lawsuit, filed in the D.C. Circuit Court, seeks to reverse the Commission’s reallocation of 60 percent of the 5.9 GHz band to unlicensed, non-transportation uses, and preserve the full 75 MHz for transportation communications.

In the press release announcing this action, ITS America President & CEO Shailen Bhatt said: “Safety has always been our top priority. We are taking this action because V2X technologies continue to be our best available tool to significantly reduce crashes and save lives on American roadways.”

Also on June 2, ITS America filed comments to the FCC’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) – issued in May along with the Report and Order reallocating the 5.9 GHz spectrum – regarding outstanding issues related to its action in this spectrum.

The comments focused on three primary issues of importance to our members: (1) that the FCC should do more to ensure that V2X communications in the limited spectrum remaining are not disrupted by harmful interference by unlicensed devices, (2) that the FCC should reimburse the costs that V2X deployers must now incur to comply with the FCC’s order, and (3) that the FCC should find additional spectrum to enable advanced V2X services that are now unlikely to work under the FCC’s new spectrum arrangement for V2X, including applications focused on protecting vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists and applications that could promote safer deployment of automated vehicles.

The interference and additional spectrum concerns are intended to ensure that the FCC’s actions will allow V2X communications to function in the way that the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the transportation industry, and safety advocates have imagined – that these communications can prevent or mitigate up to 80% of non-impaired crashes. ITS America joins with the overwhelming conclusion of the transportation safety community that V2X communications offer the best opportunity for real progress towards a safer transportation system, and that the FCC’s recent decisions regarding the spectrum undermine that opportunity. If the FCC is set on moving forward with its planned spectrum reallocation, then addressing the matters raised in ITS America’s comments is essential to resolving some of the outstanding issues with the commission’s proposal – namely, that the FCC has not appropriately resolved USDOT’s concerns about the potential for harmful interference from nearby devices (potentially muddying V2X communications that need instantaneous transmission to prevent crashes) and that it has not left V2X communications enough spectrum for the safety applications of the future. The call for reimbursement is focused on ensuring the FCC’s actions do not reduce current levels of safety and allow for continued deployment of V2X technologies. If the FCC is going to make dramatic changes to the public safety spectrum needed for safety technologies, the FCC should establish a mechanism for V2X deployers to be made whole.

Throughout the comment period, 38 comments addressed either interference concerns, reimbursement, or additional spectrum for vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications (one comment focused on patent-related issues). Of the 38 comments, 32 supported aspects of ITS America’s positions (84 percent), while only six were opposed (16 percent). This is similar to the proportion of comments filed in the FCC’s original proposal – both the comment and reply comment periods for the first Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) saw 85 percent of filings supportive of the position of transportation stakeholders – namely, that V2X communications are an important tool for transportation safety and the FCC should not undermine this tool by reapportioning the spectrum currently reserved for those communications.

For the FNPRM proceeding, numerous commenters raised three core principles: that the FCC’s current limits on interference were insufficient to protect V2X communications in the remaining 30 MHz (71 percent of commenters), that a reimbursement mechanism should be established to provide financial aid to V2X deployers (especially public agencies) that have been stranded by the FCC’s decision (37 percent of commenters), and that the FCC should find additional spectrum for advanced V2X services if it is set on taking away spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band (58 percent of commenters). Filers opposed to those principles were extremely limited – only six comments were filed in opposition to the interference concerns, reimbursement requests, or additional spectrum requests outlined above. Of those in opposition, all are either poised to financially benefit from this proceeding or are funded by interests that are – they are the same voices minimizing the importance of this spectrum for transportation safety throughout the proceeding.

This limited opposition to the points ITS America and other transportation safety stakeholders make underscores the clear record of this proceeding: transportation safety stakeholders are mobilized in opposition to FCC action that takes away spectrum needed for transportation safety, while a limited number of cable and Wi-Fi interests are eager for the FCC to move forward without caution. This debate will continue in the next phase of this FNPRM’s proceeding – the reply comment period, which ends July 2. ITS America intends to file reply comments rebutting cable and Wi-Fi stakeholder arguments in this initial comment period.

Thank you to ITS America’s V2X and Connected Transportation Standing Committee members for their continued engagement as well as assistance in drafting the association’s comments.

ITS America is eager to continue to work with the FCC and USDOT to find a workable outcome to this proceeding, which has significantly threatened the long-term potential of V2X communications.