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Lawmaker pressures FCC to rethink proposal affecting truck platooning

DeFazio warns Federal Communications Commission’s Wi-Fi spectrum carve-out raises vehicle safety risks

FCC action could disrupt truck platooning. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

A top transportation lawmaker is pressuring the Biden administration to reconsider a proposal that trucking advocates say could hinder the deployment of truck platooning and other connected-vehicle automation.

In a letter sent Thursday to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, warned that the independent agency’s decision last year to share the 5.9 GHz frequency band with unlicensed Wi-Fi could hinder progress on so-called vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology, which is essential to platooning automation.

“The parameters in the FCC’s First Report and Order (R&O) will make V2X communications vulnerable to harmful interference and leave V2X with little dedicated spectrum,” DeFazio said. “If the interference issues are not resolved, V2X may have no usable spectrum at all.”

Commercial trucking companies have been relying on the 5.9 GHz band for testing truck platooning, whereby convoys following at extremely short distances require the technology to maintain safety.

“With short-range commercial truck platooning where trucks follow close behind each other, reaction time is incredibly important. When the lead truck steps on the brake, the following truck has seconds to react,” truck platooning expert Alberto Lacaze, co-founder and president of Robotic Research, told FreightWaves last year.

The FCC’s move to carve out more bandwidth for Wi-Fi was backed heavily by the telecommunications industry. But DeFazio pointed out that the decision ignored safety concerns raised by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which has contended that the 5.9 GHz band is needed for advanced driver assistance safety systems that hold the promise of drastically reducing fatal accidents.

DOT reportable commercial vehicle accident fatalities, October 2018-October 2020.
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The decision was also opposed by 38 members of Congress, state departments of transportation and trucking advocates such as the American Trucking Associations, DeFazio said. “Instead, the commission, ‘which is not an auto safety expert,’ according to FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, approved an unsafe proposal that stands to undermine roadway safety,” DeFazio said.

“It is my hope that the FCC will take a more measured approach to the 5.9 GHz band under the Biden administration and provide the proper consideration to the impacts that this decision stands to have on the lives of the traveling public.”

DeFazio’s request was supported by Shailen Bhatt, president and CEO of ITS America, which advocates for transportation technology.

“With the recent National Safety Council’s alarming estimates that 42,060 people died on U.S. roadways last year – an 8% jump – now is not the time to give away a majority of this spectrum,” Bhatt asserted. “In addition, state and local transportation agencies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in this lifesaving technology that would be wasted if the FCC plows ahead with its plan.”

FCC officials were not immediately available to comment.

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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.