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Truck safety advocates blast FCC spectrum carve-out plan

A proposal by U.S. federal regulators to reassign a section of airwaves currently dedicated to advanced communications among cars and trucks will make the roads more dangerous, truck safety advocates warn.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants 45 of the 75 MHz within the 5.9 GHz band that has been set aside since 1999 for automotive communications to be used instead for Wi-Fi cellular service, according to a plan announced Nov. 20 by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“After 20 years of seeing these prime airwaves go largely unused, the time has come for the FCC to take a fresh look at the 5.9 GHz band,” Pai said in a speech in Washington. “The policy we have had in place since 1999 has not maximized the value of the 5.9 GHz band for the American people. After four presidential administrations, eight FCC chairs and 20 years, it’s long past time to turn the page. Let’s move on from our failed strategy.”

The FCC’s proposed rule, which will be open to public comment, drew immediate criticism from the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA), whose members train over 50,000 drivers per year.

“We find it very troubling that the FCC would value a need to connect wireless devices when this technology can be used to save thousands of lives a year,” CVTA President and CEO Don Lefeve told FreightWaves. “If cars and trucks have dedicated airwaves through which to talk to each other, then you can ensure they don’t run into each other. The FCC should be prepared to meet fierce opposition from state and local governments that have already gone on record for supporting the preservation of 5.9 GHz for auto safety.”

That support, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), has translated to “hundreds of millions of dollars” invested by state and local governments to develop and deploy lifesaving connected vehicle (CV) technologies in the 5.9 GHz spectrum.

“State DOTs understand that a CV environment holds the potential to support a fundamental advancement in ensuring the safety of our nation’s surface transportation system,” AASHTO wrote in a letter to Pai in August. “And in order for this promising future to become a reality, the 5.9 GHz spectrum must be preserved for transportation safety purposes.”

ITS America, which supports intelligent-transportation research, also considered the proposal a setback for safety.

“In a country that reels from nearly 36,000 roadway deaths every year, it is unfathomable that the United States would literally give away our top safety tool — and with it, our best chance to save tens of thousands of lives,” said ITS America President and CEO Shailen Bhatt.

At the same time Pai was announcing the proposed rulemaking, a top official at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was testifying at a U.S. Senate hearing about the importance of preserving the 5.9 GHz space.

“States are deploying technology for traffic safety using 75 megahertz in the 5.9 GHz band,” James Owens, NHTSA’s acting administrator, stated in his written comments. “The purpose of this Safety Band is to keep a dedicated transportation safety communication channel. Now, new vehicle and infrastructure technology being developed here and elsewhere use this band to communicate between vehicles to stop them from crashing, and between vehicles and infrastructure such as traffic lights to smooth traffic flow.”

In addition to its potential for improving safety, the band has been used in the freight sector to test platooning, which uses autonomous technology to allow trucks to reduce operational costs by traveling closer together.

Volvo Trucks North America partnered with FedEx to test its advanced driver assistance system technology in a public on-highway platooning demonstration last year.

“Dedicated bandwidth within the 5.9 GHz spectrum is critical for the successful deployment of [vehicle-to-vehicle] applications, like truck platooning,” Volvo Trucks North America’s vice president for product planning, Keith Brandis, commented at the time.

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes FedEx (No. 1).

One Comment

  1. So they want to steal every scrap of bandwidth for 5G by claiming it will “maximize the value of the 5.9 GHz band for the American people”. The American people couldn’t care less, but I’m sure the shareholders do (the real impetus here).

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.