FCC votes unanimously to redistribute a portion of the safety spectrum

ATSSA and other roadway safety advocates opposed changes to 5.9 GHz band

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously today to reallocate more than half of the 5.9GHz spectrum band—known as the “safety spectrum”—to unlicensed uses including WiFi.

The action comes despite warnings from the U.S. departments of Transportation and Treasury, and multiple transportation-safety-focused organizations—including ATSSA—that diminishing the safety spectrum endangers technological advancements in vehicle connectivity and smart infrastructure, and ultimately puts lives at risk.

The new rules adopted today make the lower 45 megahertz of the spectrum available for unlicensed uses. They require Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) licensees to stop using this portion of the spectrum within a year.

The FCC action also requires the transition of the ITS radio service standard from Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) to Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (CV2X) technology.

Commissioners said before the vote that little progress has been made in using the 5.9GHz band to improve automotive safety since the band was first reserved for that purpose in 1999.

“Today, we put to an end two decades of waste and inefficient use of the valuable 5.9GHz band,” said Commissioner Michael O’Rielly before casting his vote.

He and other commissioners said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for greater WiFi capabilities, as Americans have depended on this connectivity to work, attend school and receive healthcare services.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai noted that DSRC—the technology for which the spectrum was originally reserved—currently exists in only a few thousand out of the 274 million automobiles on American roads.

“DSRC has done virtually nothing to improve automotive safety,” Pai said. “By moving from DSRC to CV2X, we are shifting form a failed technology of the past to a promising technology of the future.”

Since the FCC first proposed these rules in December 2019, ATSSA and other advocates of roadway safety have vocally opposed them, warning that the 5.9GHz band is the only foothold that transportation safety uses have in a growing amount of spectrum being consumed by WiFi—and that keeping that right-of-way reserved is the only way to achieve the life-saving potential of connected-vehicle technology.

“The decision by the FCC is a major blow to the roadway safety community and public safety in general, and a major disappointment in light of all the facts provided in support of preserving the spectrum by our industry, industry partners and other government agencies,” said ATSSA President & CEO Stacy Tetschner. “As connected and automated vehicles become more and more prevalent on our nation’s roads, safety must continue to be the true focal point. This decision doesn’t reflect a safety-first strategy.”

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