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Hill Chill with FCC 5.9 GHz Review

The Republican-led FCC has gotten some strong bipartisan support for its proposal to take a new look at how the 5.9 GHz spectrum band should be used.

The FCC is looking to allow unlicensed WiFi to share the 75 MHz of spectrum in the band with the incumbent vehicle-to-vehicle (V-to-V) licensed users, yet another of the FCC's efforts to free up more spectrum for 5G. Cable operators, who rely on WiFi as their primary out-of-home broadband extender, are all for freeing it up, and pushed for the fresh review.

Car companies have historically pushed back, citing potential interference to those crucial V-to-V communications.

"Twenty years ago, the 5.9 GHz band was allocated for Dedicated Short-Range Communications, a technology that has yet to be widely adopted," the legislators wrote to chairman Ajit Pai this week, though they were clearly preaching to the choir on the issue. "It is important that we re-examine how this band is being used..."

Pai said the same thing last month, but the legislators were just giving him some public support while urging that review to come sooner rather than later.

In addition to Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), who led the effort, signing on to the letter were Reps. Anna Eshoo (also D-Calif.), John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Billy Long (R-Mo.).

Related: O'Rielly Says Expanding WiFi into 5.9 GHz Is Easy

Currently, the 5.9 GHz band is used, or at least allocated, for dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), a vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications system that has likely been overtaken by other technology. The FCC completed testing last fall that concluded WiFi devices could peacefully coexist with DSRC if that technology does eventually come into wide use for vehicle-to-vehicle communications, while President Donald Trump has appeared to back off his a proposed DSRC mandate.

Last month, in a speech to the WiFi World Congress, Pai said: "Given the swirl of the debate and the vast technological changes that have occurred since the Commission allocated the 5.9 GHz band 20 years ago, I believe that the time has come for the FCC to take a fresh look at this band. We should open up a rulemaking proceeding, seek comment on various proposals for the band’s future, and use the record that we compile to make a final decision on how the band should be allocated."

The legislators cited that statement as the prompt for seconding the motion, as it were.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.