Citing wireless technology’s future potential for improving traffic safety, the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) is urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to protect the 5.9 GHz band of spectrum set aside for connected vehicle technology.

ITS America, along with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and other industry groups, is concerned that the FCC’s recently announced Wi-Fi expansion plan might result in allowing unlicensed Wi-Fi-based devices to operate in the 5.9 GHz band. The band was previously designated for connected vehicle technology. The concern is that such shared use could result in harmful interference.

The Wi-Fi expansion plan, announced by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski at the Consumer Electronics Show last month, will be the topic of a Feb. 20 FCC meeting. The FCC plans to consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to substantially increase the amount of unlicensed spectrum available for unlicensed devices in the 5 GHz band. The 5.9 GHz band is one of two bands under consideration.

The FCC had allocated the 5.9 GHz band for development of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications technology. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) estimates these technologies could potentially address 80% of all unimpaired crash scenarios, saving thousands of lives each year.

An ITS America-led coalition released the following statement: “We support efforts to identify spectrum that may be utilized to expand Wi-Fi applications. But with over 30,000 deaths on our nation’s roads every year, we also believe it is critical that efforts to open up additional spectrum do not come at the expense of revolutionary life-saving technologies.”

“The U.S. DOT, automakers and high-tech leaders have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to develop connected vehicle technology based on the availability of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band,” said ITS America President and CEO Scott Belcher. “We are at the cusp of it becoming reality, and we owe it to the American taxpayers to protect their investment and see this life-saving innovation through to implementation.”

A study by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) recognized that connected vehicle technology “could help prevent the majority of types of crashes that typically occur in the real world, such as crashes at intersections or while changing lanes.”

The study concluded that “further analysis is required to determine whether and how the identified risk factors can be mitigated...” and that “while the state-of-the-art of existing and proposed spectrum sharing technologies is advancing at a rapid pace, NTIA recognizes the importance of these bands to the federal agencies…and the transportation industry and the potential risks of introducing a substantial number of new, unlicensed devices into them without proper safeguards.”

In the letter to FCC Chairman Genachowski, the transportation leaders ask the FCC to allow for due diligence by ensuring that any timelines included in a proposed 5.9 GHz band rulemaking are consistent with the NTIA schedule for completing its quantitative evaluation and issuing final recommendations. The letter also urges the FCC to not make key judgments before the DOT has made its own decisions on implementation of a connected vehicle network. Studies suggest such a network has the potential to greatly reduce the 6 million crashes and more than 30,000 deaths that occur on U.S. roads annually.

ITS America was joined on the letter by AAA, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Association of Global Automakers, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, American Highway Users Alliance, American Public Transportation Association, Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, American Traffic Safety Services Association, Transportation for America, and numerous other public and private sector leaders.

“We stand ready to work with NTIA, the wireless industry, and other federal and non-federal stakeholders to evaluate the feasibility of existing, modified, proposed and new spectrum-sharing technologies and approaches,” the ITS America-led coalition said. “However, this process should be allowed to proceed without a predetermination by the FCC that spectrum sharing in the 5.9 GHz should be the ultimate outcome.”