Public Interest Groups Call for 5.9 GHz WiFi Spectrum

Public Knowledge and New America's Open Technology Institute are squarely behind cable broadband operators' push to open up the lower 45 MHz of the 5.9 GHz band for WiFi, spectrum heretofore entirely reserved for vehicle-to-vehicle communications (V2V). 

The other 30 MHz would remain reserved for V2V in the FCC proposal.

In reply comments to the FCC, the groups said that the pandemic-driven work-at-home environment has "upped the urgency" for freeing up more spectrum for unlicensed WiFi broadband connections. 

Related: NCTA Says It's Time 5.9 GHz Drove WiFi Expansion

"The gigabit-fast WiFi channel the Commission can create by reallocating the lower portion of the virtually unused 5.9 GHz band is high priority because it can be used immediately with existing gear and provides better coverage than any 6 GHz channel for both homes and rural broadband," they said. 

Like NCTA, which also invoked pandemic urgency in its reply comments, they pushed back on auto company arguments that the spectrum is of marginal importance for boosting 5G, saying instead it can "immediately boost the capacity of fixed wireless broadband services in rural, tribal and other underserved areas with unencumbered outdoor use."  

Related: FCC Lends WISPS 5.9 GHz Spectrum for Pandemic-Driven Traffic 

And also like NCTA, they said that the 30 MHz that V2V will still get in the band is enough for its needs, particularly since they say automakers have signaled that they are "not willing to commit to deploying even the basic V2V safety messaging to more than a tiny fraction of the U.S. vehicle fleet." 

Related: NCTA to FCC: Set 5.9 GHz Free

But they also suggest there are other places V2V could move in the spectrum band. 

NCTA has long pushed for freeing up the spectrum, just as auto makers have long pushed back, saying it could impede the rollout of lifesaving connected-car systems. Car companies want the FCC to reverse course and keep all 75 for V2V, while cable ops, joined by Public Knowledge and OTI, want the FCC to put the item on the fast track to approval. 

John Eggerton

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.