TR Daily FCC Unanimously Adopts 5.9 GHz Band Order
Wednesday, November 18, 2020

FCC Unanimously Adopts 5.9 GHz Band Order

The FCC today unanimously adopted a 5.9 gigahertz band order that makes the lower 45 megahertz available for Wi-Fi use and the upper 30 MHz available for cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) technology.

Democratic Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks concurred in the vote, saying they believe the agency should have deferred action as requested by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.), the ranking member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Today’s action drew praise from Wi-Fi and C-V2X advocates and criticism from the Department of Transportation and other road safety interests.

The first report and order, further notice of proposed rulemaking, and order of proposed modification on the 5.850-5.925 GHz band was adopted in ET docket 19-138.

It follows up on an NPRM adopted last December proposing to make the lower 45 MHz of the band available for unlicensed use and the upper 20 MHz for C-V2X technology. The NPRM sought comment on whether to allocate the remaining 10 MHz to C-V2X or to incumbent dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) technology (TR Daily, Dec. 12, 2019).

In adopting today’s item, Commissioners stressed that the spectrum has gone largely unused since the Commission allocated it to DSRC more than 20 years ago, and they emphasized the growing demand for spectrum for Wi-Fi use.

"The Report and Order adopts technical rules to enable full-power indoor unlicensed operations in the lower 45 megahertz portion of the band immediately, as well as opportunities for outdoor unlicensed use on a coordinated basis under certain circumstances. Under the new rules, ITS services will be required to vacate the lower 45 megahertz of the band within one year," an FCC news release noted.

"The new rules also will improve automotive safety by reserving the upper 30 megahertz of the band for Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) services and designating C-V2X as the technology standard for safety-related transportation and vehicular communications," the news release added. "C-V2X has gained momentum both domestically and internationally. While the Commission designated Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) services as the technology standard for ITS services over twenty years ago, DSRC has not been meaningfully deployed, and this critical mid-band spectrum has largely been unused for decades. Today’s action therefore begins the transition away from DSRC services—which are incompatible with C-V2X—to hasten the actual deployment of ITS services that will improve automotive safety."

The news release also noted that the FNPRM "proposes technical rules for outdoor unlicensed operations across the United States (except for limited number of areas) in the lower part of the band once ITS operations have vacated that spectrum. The Further Notice seeks comment on how to transition ITS operations in the band to C-V2X-based technology, including the appropriate implementation timeline and technical and operational parameters for C-V2X service. The Further Notice also seeks comment on whether the Commission should allocate additional spectrum for ITS applications in the future."

The order of proposed modification "proposes to modify all 5.9 GHz band ITS licenses in accordance with today’s changes," the news release added.

"DSRC-based service has evolved slowly and has not been used in a meaningful way to improve automotive safety," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. "For example, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, only 57 operational DSRC projects have been deployed, including 6,182 DSRC roadside units and 15,506 vehicles equipped with DSRC on-board units. By comparison, there are approximately 274 million registered vehicles in the United States operating across approximately 4.2 million miles of roadways."

The Chairman added that "there is a pressing need for us to allocate additional spectrum for unlicensed operations" and he said that "the automotive industry has pivoted from DSRC to Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) technology." He said that "based on the record, I am confident that the upper 30 megahertz of the 5.9 GHz band will provide the spectrum needed for safety-related services. Indeed, right now only 20 megahertz of the band are actually dedicated for safety applications.

"Moreover, it is important to remember that spectrum other than the 5.9 GHz band can be used—in fact is used—for automotive safety technology. For example, in 2017, the Commission made available a contiguous, five-gigahertz band of spectrum in the 76-81 GHz band for vehicular radar systems. And other services, such as traffic light signal preemption, are readily available in other bands such as the 900 MHz band and the 2.4 GHz band," Mr. Pai said.

"So, notwithstanding the irresponsible rhetoric of some, this Commission does care about automotive safety," he said. "Indeed, it is precisely because we do that we’re shifting from DSRC to C-V2X. The sad fact is that DSRC has done virtually nothing to improve automobile safety. A few corporate interests cannot squat on this spectrum for a generation and expect to maintain a stranglehold on it just by giving it the empty slogan of the ‘safety spectrum.’ Nearly two decades of failure is more than enough. The American people deserve better. And I am optimistic that C-V2X will actually deliver what DSRC advocates only promised for years: a widely-adopted, widely-deployed automotive safety technology that will save lives on the road."

Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, who joined with Commissioner Rosenworcel for years to press for action in the 5.9 GHz band proceeding, said that although he was "pleased with the overall direction of today’s item, there are some things that we should have done differently.

"In particular, the transition time to relocate the few DSRC incumbents out of the new unlicensed portion of the band should have been six months instead of one year. While I understand that there are some roadside infrastructure and vehicles equipped with DSRC, most existing equipment is being used for testing purposes and experimental use," he said.

"Further, the Order should have clearly stated that the 30 megahertz reserved for the auto industry can only be used for safety purposes," Mr. O’Rielly said. "Everyone admits that is the intent, and the auto industry even pledges that this is the case. Then why exactly can’t it be certain in our rules? Is it because we all secretly acknowledge that some industry proponents want to misuse the ‘safety’ band? Under no circumstances should the Commission be giving spectrum handouts to an industry to provide services that are commercially available using other frequencies. Unfortunately, even though I proposed edits to address this problem, they did not carry the day and were not approved by Commission leadership. However, I do appreciate that reserving this spectrum for safety purposes only was added to the Further Notice.

"Lastly, I am extremely disappointed that the Commission did not take a technology-neutral approach in this item," the Commissioner complained. "It would have been far more beneficial if the Commission had simply provided the spectrum for vehicular safety systems and allowed car manufacturers and the various proponents to determine the best technology path. Alas, there seems to be a consensus that the auto industry will not be able to come to such an agreement, leaving the Commission, which is not an auto safety expert, in the untenable position of picking the winners and losers in this tug of war. In this vein, history is repeating itself."

"Regardless of these shortcomings, this item overall does a lot of good by permitting both unlicensed use and C-V2X auto-safety applications and creating a framework to ensure that harmful interference will not occur," Mr. O’Rielly said. "Further, I appreciate that many of my requested edits were included. Now that C-V2X is the car safety application of the near future, we have to allow industry to actually access the spectrum. The Chairman’s proposal posted three weeks ago did not provide any certainty as to when the spectrum would be available. I am pleased that my request to ensure that the spectrum will be accessible for C-V2X, with some limitations, in the near term, using a waiver process was supported by my colleagues. This certainty, as opposed to forcing parties to wait for resolution of the Further Notice, will allow the automobile industry to make definitive plans, place equipment orders, and ultimately get the safety technology into cars.

"I am also pleased that my suggestion was implemented to move the discussion of NTIA’s proposed exclusion zones for outdoor unlicensed use to the Further Notice," he said. "Unlicensed users will need to protect the federal incumbents in the band, but more consideration is needed with regard to exclusion zones versus coordination zones and their appropriate sizes. We never should have considered going down that wrong path in the first place."

Some industry entities had asked the FCC, among other things, to allow C-V2X operations to commence more quickly and to move the exclusion zone issue to the further notice.

Commissioner Brendan Carr said that the FCC’s action today "marks another significant mid-band win. As with all of the other bands, there have been thorny issues to contend with and disagreements to work through. And in the past there’s been a fair amount of kicking the can down the road. That ends today.

"Our action will deliver 45 MHz of spectrum, creating a contiguous block of 160 MHz when combined with the band below, that can be put to use immediately for the benefit of all Americans," Mr. Carr added. "Opening this spectrum up won’t just mean faster Wi-Fi for consumers. It will help power all of the advanced applications that 5G promises. That might include wearable devices to improve your health, as we’ve seen during this pandemic. Or devices for virtual and even augmented reality to make everyday life a little easier. Or even machine-to-machine connectivity to make America even more competitive on the world stage."

He told reporters during a call after the meeting that it’s "a little ironic" that some suggested the FCC defer action on the item until there is unanimity among parties, noting that DoT has a long-held position against reallocation of any portion of the 5.9 GHz band. "This is what tough decision-making looks like," he added.

Commissioner Rosenworcel cited a letter from Sen. Cantwell to Mr. Pai yesterday that expressed concern that the item adopted today "does not adequately address the myriad issues raised by stakeholders, especially those raised by other federal agencies like the Department of Transportation. … I urge you to work with the Department of Transportation and affected stakeholders to resolve their concerns before finalizing a rule that could have a significant and harmful impact on transportation safety."

The letter continued, "Further, with the upcoming change in Administration and FCC leadership, your agency should not move forward on complex and controversial items in which the new Congress and new Administration will have an interest. In November 2016, you welcomed Congressional calls to halt action on such controversial items during the transition period to the present administration, and called on then-Chairman Thomas Wheeler to withdraw major items from the FCC’s November meeting agenda. As Chairman, you should follow suit and halt action on major and controversial items on the November Open Meeting agenda, including your proposal for the future of the 5.9 GHz band."

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.) and communications and technology subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D., Pa.) have also called on the FCC to avoid action on any "controversial" items in the wake of the presidential election (TR Daily, Nov. 10).

An FCC spokesperson has declined to comment on both letters.

Commissioner Rosenworcel said that the 5.9 GHz band is "not yet close" to being fully utilized by DSRC technology, adding that freeing up 45 MHz of the band for unlicensed use "will supersize Wi-Fi." She also emphasized the benefit of, for the first time, authorizing C-V2X use of the band.

But Ms. Rosenworcel said that it was "regrettable" that the FCC’s record has "less than unanimous support from our federal partners," reiterating her call for a "whole-of-government approach to spectrum policy."

"We should have taken some more time to clear this up," she added, citing Sen. Cantwell’s letter.

Mr. Starks said that unserved and underserved communities rely heavily on Wi-Fi technology that will be further enabled by today’s action. But he said he also is disappointed by disagreement among federal agencies on spectrum issues.

He noted Sen. Cantwell’s letter and the fact that Mr. Wheeler pulled items from the November agenda after the 2016 election. He said he would have liked the FCC to defer action on the 5.9 GHz band item for consideration by the new administration.

In a statement, DoT said it "is deeply concerned about the Federal Communications Commission’s Report and Order to transfer 60% of existing transportation safety spectrum from the 5.9 GHz ‘Safety Band’ for unlicensed Wi-Fi uses. For the USDOT, our top priority is safety, including reducing the number of injuries and fatalities resulting from crashes. Dedicated spectrum, such as that currently provided by the Safety Band, is vital to enabling critical safety advances through connected vehicle technology.

"The entire dedicated spectrum in the Safety Band is needed for ‘Vehicle to Everything’ (V2X) communications to deliver the full range of safety benefits," DoT added. "One aspect of V2X would enable connected vehicles to communicate with each other and to alert drivers to imminent hazards. The American auto industry has committed to installing at least 5 million such devices in the next five years. Another aspect of V2X would empower ‘smart’ infrastructure to reduce traffic congestion, provide quicker first responder dispatch, and assist with roadway management. These technologies are already being deployed across the country. Without enough shared spectrum, the American people may miss these opportunities and fall further behind foreign competitors who are expanding their dedicated safety spectrum.

"In addition to taking away a large portion of the spectrum, the FCC Report and Order prematurely selects a single form of technology that can be used for V2X," DoT complained. "Allowing the government to pick technological winners and losers stifles innovation and almost never succeeds. The government should be fostering an environment conducive to innovation, not hindering it. The Department remains committed to enhancing vehicle safety and to finding a solution for expanding V2X, and we hope that American companies will be in the forefront of supporting the implementation of this technology at home and worldwide. We will continue to work with all stakeholders to advance technologies that enhance traffic safety and efficiency."

Members of Congress weighed in on today’s FCC action on both sides of the issue.

"The pandemic has made clear that Americans depend on Wi-Fi for telehealth, remote learning, and working from home. I’ve long called for increasing spectrum allocated for unlicensed uses, like Wi-Fi, and I applaud the FCC’s decision to do just that in the 5.9 GHz band today," said Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D., Calif.), a member of the House communications subcommittee. "Unlicensed spectrum is the underappreciated workhorse of spectrum policy that impacts Americans’ daily experiences with their at-home internet, and it enables countless innovations. The FCC’s decision today is an important step, and I encourage it to continue expanding unlicensed spectrum in the coming months."

But House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.) and ranking member Sam Graves (R., Mo.) criticized the FCC.

"Today’s FCC vote is a gift to corporate interests at the expense of public safety. It’s highly disappointing the FCC chose to look past multiple concerns raised over the past year by a bipartisan coalition of T&I Committee members, numerous transportation agencies and advocates, and even Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao," Rep. DeFazio said. "By redistributing spectrum for corporate interests, the FCC jeopardizes ongoing efforts to modernize our transportation systems with emerging technologies that reduce congestion, cut carbon pollution, and critically, make our streets safer for everyone. Additionally, the FCC—which does not have expertise in transportation safety—has prematurely chosen a winner in the DSRC vs. C-V2X transportation safety debate. This unnecessary ruling will undermine decades of development and over a billion public dollars that the transportation community has invested in these technologies. While today’s vote is unfortunate, we are urging GAO for further study and will keep fighting this decision with all the tools at our disposal."

"States, localities, and many stakeholders employ and continue to develop new uses for this critical spectrum that has been reserved specifically for transportation safety and infrastructure, but now the FCC’s action will unnecessarily set back advancements and delay the real-world application of innovations that can save lives, like connected vehicle technologies," said Rep. Graves.

Wi-Fi advocates welcomed today’s FCC action, as did C-V2X proponents, although they would have preferred having the FCC reallocate the entire band for C-V2X use and had sought additional interference protection.

"Today, the FCC unanimously voted to make more spectrum available for Wi-Fi, unlocking airwaves that have sat unused for two decades," said WifiForward. "In that time, Wi-Fi has become absolutely foundational to how we live, work and connect—something families across the country are acutely aware of now, more than ever. Today’s vote will create the first usable 160 MHz wide Wi-Fi channel that operators can bring online quickly to make our networks even better and faster. We commend the Chairman, Commissioners O’Rielly and Rosenworcel and the full Commission for being champions for Wi-Fi and connectivity."

"At a time when so many Americans rely on Wi-Fi for connectivity, this decision is vital," said the Wi-Fi Alliance. "The newly available unlicensed spectrum will enable wider channels that can be immediately used by Wi-Fi 6 to support gigabit connectivity with lower latency, improved coverage, and better power efficiency. The Wi-Fi industry is ready to use this spectrum to deliver expanded connectivity benefits nationwide."

"We applaud Chairman Pai and the entire Commission for their multi-year commitment to bringing underutilized 5.9 GHz spectrum into more productive use," said NCTA. "The Commission’s bipartisan approval of a band-split approach will enable creation of a new, wide indoor Wi-Fi channel that can quickly be brought online for American consumers, while also preserving sufficient spectrum for new automotive safety innovations. This sensible compromise will bring faster Wi-Fi to American homes and businesses when they need it most. We look forward to continued work with the Commission as it considers enabling outdoor unlicensed 5.9 GHz devices in the future."

Tony Werner, president-technology, product, and Xperience at Comcast Cable, said, "We applaud the FCC for dedicating more Wi-Fi spectrum today. Wi-Fi is central to American homes, schools, and workplaces and carries more broadband traffic than all other wireless technologies combined. Today’s FCC action is the culmination of many years of bipartisan effort at the FCC and in Congress on behalf of American consumers, and will empower broadband networks to deliver more capacity and speed to Americans quickly. We at Comcast look forward to putting this new band to work for our customers."

"The 5.9 GHz band will transform the Wi-Fi experience and bring faster speeds and greater capacity to consumers in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the country. The action taken today by the FCC will quickly unleash gigabit Wi-Fi speeds and free up much-needed unlicensed spectrum to improve consumers’ in-home Wi-Fi experience," said Craig Cowden, senior vice president-wireless technology at Charter Communications, Inc.

Louis Peraertz, vice president-policy for the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, said, "Since March, dozens of WISPA members took the Commission up on its offer to use 45-megahertz of 5.9 GHz spectrum on an unlicensed basis via Special Temporary Authority. These temporary grants of authority enabled many of our members to quickly and effectively meet increased capacity demands brought about by the onset of COVID-19. They are potent case studies that show how the band can be used to keep us safe and connected through outdoor, Point-to-Multipoint connectivity.

"Today’s Order will immediately allow widespread indoor use of the lower 45-megahertz of the band," Mr. Peraertz added. "The pending FNPRM tees up permanent use for WISPs to use the 45-megahertz outdoors. We look forward to working with all stakeholders during the FNPRM process to maximize the band for broadband consumers who need this unlicensed spectrum to stay connected during the pandemic, and to promote an efficient transition of automotive safety communications to the upper portion of the band."

"5G Americas is pleased the FCC has chosen to update rules involving Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) for Intelligent Transportation Systems, allowing the US to join other leading nations in fostering a global ecosystem for this superior connected vehicle technology," said Chris Pearson, president of the trade group. "American consumers will benefit from a safer connected-car experience, new Vehicle-to-Infrastructure services and more broadband applications, now that C-V2X may be deployed. 5G Americas believes this technology will be quickly adopted, as C-V2X is standardized, tested, and ready for commercial deployment."

"This reallocation of spectrum could not be more timely, since many existing Wi-Fi routers and access points can be software upgraded for indoor use, giving families a huge boost in capacity for all their devices. Families struggling to work, learn and keep in contact with friends and family from home should all be grateful that the FCC made the tough decision to repurpose this unused spectrum from the auto industry to Wi-Fi," said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. "Although the auto industry opposed this for years, it got done on an entirely bipartisan basis thanks to persistent, forward-looking leadership by Commissioners O’Rielly and Rosenworcel."

"Today’s FCC action is a win for closing the digital divide, a win for closing the homework gap, and a win for auto safety," said Harold Feld, SVP of Public Knowledge. "The addition of 45 MHz of unlicensed spectrum will create a WiFi channel capable of supporting WiFi 6. This will enable wireless providers to dramatically increase the speed and reliability of rural broadband. It will dramatically increase the power of public hotspots and mobile hotspots on which many low-income families rely for access to school and work during the pandemic. Because this relies on already existing technology, the expansion and change to WiFi 6 can happen relatively quickly through software upgrades once the rules become effective."

"In a series of votes today, the FCC took some important steps to advance sound communications policy. Probably the most consequential action was the adoption of an order that immediately makes available additional spectrum for next-generation WiFi in the 5.9 GHZ spectrum band, while also reserving spectrum to be used to improve auto safety," said Free State Foundation President Randolph May. "While it is not to be expected that the commissioners always will agree across party lines on all consequential matters, nor should they, today’s actions show that on many matters, especially those that are more technically and engineering-oriented such as spectrum allocations, they can and do agree on a bipartisan basis. In today’s environment, and given the importance of more ubiquitous broadband connectivity and 5G deployment to the nation’s social and economic well-being, this is worthy of note, and commendation."

But ITS America President and Chief Executive Officer Shailen Bhatt blasted the FCC’s action.

"Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) abandoned public safety by voting to give away a majority of the 5.9 GHz safety spectrum that currently allows life-saving Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) technologies to work without interference," he said. "ITS America is but one of dozens of transportation safety organizations that have been sounding the alarm about the implications of this action—from the U.S. Department of Transportation, to all state departments of transportation and so many other organizations dedicated to keeping people safe on U.S. roads. In a time in which we are rightly focused on following science and data, it is inexplicable that the FCC is willfully disregarding the advice of experts.

"Chairman Pai’s statement is incorrect—it is corporate interests that are cheering the reallocation of the safety spectrum away from the public interests," Mr. Bhatt said. "The most vocal opponents of this action are the U.S. Department of Transportation, every single state department of transportation, and myriad of public safety organizations. Today’s move will, in effect, likely render the entire band useless for safety. We are evaluating all possible options to preserve public safety and significantly reduce the tragic deaths of nearly 37,000 people who die on our roadways every year."

John Bozzella, president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, said, "This decision undeniably impacts road safety and the future of automotive innovation in this country. Not only was most of the 5.9 GHz Safety Spectrum reallocated away from transportation safety, but it also appears that critical issues around harmful interference to Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) operations were not addressed. We are committed to deploying V2X technology and look forward to working with other transportation stakeholders to maximize the safety and societal benefits that can be enabled under this new allocation and to support continued V2X innovation in the United States."

However, the 5G Automotive Association, which represents C-V2X interests, said it "welcomes the Commission’s decision to move forward with C-V2X, a state-of-the-art transportation safety technology platform. Our priority remains speeding the availability of C-V2X to American road users under parameters that responsibly guard against interference caused by Wi-Fi. We look forward to reviewing the final order and addressing any outstanding issues with the FCC and other stakeholders in the months ahead."

"Qualcomm is pleased that today’s FCC decision both reassigns the upper 30 MHz of the 5.9 GHz band to C-V2X, the advanced wireless automobile safety technology, and creates a path for C-V2X to get on the air quickly," said Dean Brenner, SVP-spectrum strategy and tech policy for Qualcomm, Inc., which developed C-V2X technology. "We’re very concerned that the ruling does not provide sufficient protection for C-V2X to avoid interference from Wi-Fi, and we plan to continue working with the FCC and other stakeholders to achieve the necessary protections." —Paul Kirby, [email protected]

MainStory: FCC FederalNews SpectrumAllocation WirelessDeployment

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