NCTA Tells FCC It's Time to Get Moving on WiFi in 5.9 GHz

Cable operators say it is time for the FCC to allow WiFi devices to start operating in the 5.9 GHz band, which has been reserved for connected-car technology--dedicated short-range communications (DSRC)--that may have already been outstripped by app-based connections.

NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, was commenting on FCC initial testing that concluded last month that WiFi devices could peacefully coexist with DSRC if that technology does eventually come into wide use for vehicle-to-vehicle communications.

"The time has come to issue a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) proposing to open the band to unlicensed operations," NCTA said.

Cable ops have been in a years-long battle to get access to the technology. As it points out in its comments, "DSRC clearly has not met the expectations that underlay the Commission’s decision to grant this one technology the extraordinary benefit of exclusive access to spectrum without an auction."

At the same time, WiFi, cable's primary mobile broadband play, has exploded to become "a central feature in consumers’ lives and in American businesses, supporting important applications from medical telemetry and home security, to critical machine communications and billions of dollars in daily financial transactions."

Related: Trump Said to Be Backing Away from DSRC Mandate

Given those changed circumstances, the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology sought comment on how those changed circumstances should affect its pending proceeding on unlicensed use of the 5.9 GHz band. NCTA says the affect should be a "fresh look" NPRM given that "there is no technical impediment to a Commission decision to open the 5.9 GHz band to unlicensed technologies, either by re-designating the band for unlicensed operations or through a band-segmentation approach."

The latter would be to reserve some of the band for DSRC and the rest for unlicensed.

NCTA has long been asking the FCC to take a "fresh look" at the 5.9 GHz spectrum band currently designated for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) ITS (intelligent transportation system) use, including whether that 75 MHz of spectrum should be freed up entirely for unlicensed WiFi. NCTA has argued that the set-aside has proved a waste of government money and an experiment that failed.

The government set aside that spectrum almost two decades ago (1999) for intelligent vehicle systems, but the technology has yet to materialize, the Obama-era planned mandate of DSRChasn't, either, under the new Trump administration, and some car companies are looking at alternative approaches to V2V communications (notably Qualcomm's Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) technology).

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.