The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has proposed taking back some of the spectrum long promised to automakers and re-allocating it to other wireless uses, according to people familiar with the matter.
It’s a potentially significant development in a years-long debate that saw automakers fight to retain frequencies they’ve barely used. Carmakers say they’re poised to finally use the airwaves to connect vehicles and infrastructure to prevent collisions.
The FCC sent the proposal to the Transportation Department in recent days, said two people who asked not to be identified discussing the private deliberations. If DOT agrees, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai could set a Dec. 12 vote on the proposal to modify the grant of airwaves it made 20 years ago.
The Transportation Department has long resisted the idea and remains concerned and will likely oppose the FCC’s latest plan, one of the people said.
Representatives for both agencies declined to comment.
Cable providers who offer Wi-Fi for customers’ wireless use are hungry for spectrum as digital technology transforms everything from cars to video feeds and household appliances.
More airwaves are needed to help “deliver a future of ubiquitous connectivity,” Charter Communications Inc. said in a Nov. 12 filing. Charter’s network supports more than 300 million devices, the Stamford, Connecticut-based company said.
Auto industry companies including General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Denso Corp. spent more than a decade developing vehicle-to-vehicle, or “V2V,” communications systems to link cars, roadside beacons and traffic lights into a seamless wireless communication web to avoid collisions and heed speed limits. Yet deployments have been few, and no major automakers produce cars using the technology in the U.S.
The auto industry has broadly shifted to favor a newer technology based on cellular systems, in part because it offers a path to transition to 5G systems in the future, proponents of the FCC’s plan say.
Ford announced earlier this year that it will outfit all its new U.S. models starting in 2022 with cellular vehicle-to-everything technology. The system would enable Ford’s cars to communicate with one another about road hazards, talk to stop lights to smooth traffic flow and pay the bill automatically while picking up fast food.
Automakers and their allies last year asked the FCC to let them use part of the band for cellular-based technology – rather than the Wi-Fi format the agency mandated in 1999 – while preserving all of the airwaves for transportation safety. In a petition the companies said the newer, cellular technology is more reliable, with greater range.
The airwaves could be used for fast communications including machine-to-machine links, and smart city applications such as smart cameras, traffic monitoring and security sensors, NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, a trade group for companies including Comcast and Charter, told the FCC in a Sept. 25 filing.
–With assistance from Keith Naughton.
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