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Highway groups sue FCC over Wi-Fi safety band decision

ITS America, AASHTO want appeals court to reverse reallocation of spectrum affecting truck platooning

Trucking wanted FCC to reserve spectrum capacity for platooning. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) have sued federal regulators for reallocating Wi-Fi spectrum that had been reserved for transportation communications including truck platooning.

In a lawsuit filed against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Wednesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, ITS and AASHTO said they want to ensure vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technologies can continue to operate throughout the 5.9 GHz band.

Last year the FCC approved shifting 60% of the 5.9 GHz band to unlicensed, non-transportation uses instead of preserving the full 75 MHz for transportation communications. The FCC’s decision was published as a final rule in April, with an effective date of July 2.

“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,” commented ITS America President and CEO Shailen Bhatt.

AASHTO Executive Director Jim Tymon said his association believes the FCC ruling “has undermined state DOTs’ ability to utilize the 5.9GHz safety frequency as it was intended to be used.”

Autonomous trucking advocates have warned that having less available spectrum could slow progress on testing.

Thomas Jensen, vice president of transportation policy for UPS (NYSE: UPS), told the FCC as it was considering the spectrum change that truck platooning can improve fuel economy by as much as 10%. “Cutting the allocation in the 5.9 GHz band by 60% inevitably will have a detrimental impact on the adoption of these platforms,” Jensen stated in comments.

In their lawsuit, ITS American and AASHTO assert that the FCC ignored the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Transportation, automotive safety professionals, automobile manufacturers and state highway officials by reallocating the lower 45 MHz of the 5.9 GHz band for other Wi-Fi uses, such as smartphones.

“And because the FCC failed to properly evaluate record evidence related to the safety-related impacts of reallocation and the interference concerns posed by Wi-Fi devices, the order is unlawfully arbitrary and capricious,” their lawsuit states.

Taking issue with the lawsuit, WiFiForward, which represents companies such as Amazon, Google and Best Buy, maintained that the FCC “acted well within its authority” and spent years analyzing and vetting its ultimate decision.

“Both auto safety technology and broadband have progressed greatly since this spectrum was gifted to the auto industry 20 years ago – without significant development – and the FCC’s rules reflect today’s needs,” WiFiForward stated.

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.