Commerce Leaders Forge Accord to Test Vehicle-to-Vehicle Spectrum Sharing

Thune, Booker, and Rubio Outline Path with Automakers and Unlicensed Spectrum Advocates

September 10, 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation chairman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Wi-Fi Innovation Act (S. 424) sponsors and committee members Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) today announced a consensus path forward for determining the feasibility of sharing the valuable spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band to provide more spectrum for unlicensed uses like Wi-Fi.

“There is broad support from interested parties, including the undersigned, for conducting tests that are fairly administered and can determine whether various sharing proposals do or do not cause harmful interference to incumbents, including primary incumbent satellite services operating in the 5.9 GHz band,” wrote Thune, Booker, and Rubio in a joint letter to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler. “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 accidents and fatalities.”

The Senate letter outlines nine principles for moving forward, including agreement that the FCC, in close coordination with the departments, should take the lead to ensure that requisite spectrum testing is conducted regarding interference-avoidance in the 5.9 GHz band. Six key industry parties, which have previously taken different positions on the use of the band, also sent a letter to the noted agencies recommending the same consensus principles for testing that the Commerce Committee brokered.

In 1999, the FCC allocated 75 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for intelligent transportation services to improve highway safety and efficiency as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation's "Intelligent Transportation Systems" (ITS) national program. Vehicle-to-Vehicle systems are being designed to provide a short range, wireless link to transfer information between vehicles and roadside systems that can help prevent collisions. Unlicensed services like Wi-Fi currently operate in other neighboring bands, and in 2013, the FCC began considering whether unlicensed wireless services can be allowed to also operate in the 5.9 GHz band to meet rising bandwidth demands. But concerns were raised that allowing unlicensed services to operate in the 5.9 GHz band may cause harmful interference with forthcoming vehicle systems. 

Senators Rubio and Booker introduced the Wi-Fi Innovation Act in February 2015, which would direct testing of unlicensed activities in the 5.9 GHz band. Recognizing that members of the Commerce Committee have diverse views on the bill, Chairman Thune worked with all parties to forge an agreement on a recommended path forward for interference testing. The letters recognizes both the growing demand for additional wireless Internet bandwidth and the need to improve safety on American roadways.

Click here for the letter from Sens. Thune, Booker, and Rubio to Secs. Foxx and Pritzker and Chairman Wheeler.

Click here for a copy of the related letter memorializing the agreed upon principles from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of Global Automakers, Intelsat, National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Qualcomm, and SES.