Senators Press Wheeler on 5.9 GHz Testing

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has decided to run to keep his seat in the Senate, has joined with a bipartisan group of senators to press FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to speed testing of the 5.9 GHz band to determine "whether and how" it can be shared among incumbents--like vehicle-to-vehicle communications--and wireless uses like cable WiFi.

Joining Rubio on the letter were Cory Booker (D-N.J) and California Democratic Reps Darrell Issa, Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), and Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio).

Rubio and Booker are co-sponsors of the Wi-Fi Innovation Act. Both have been leading voices for freeing up spectrum for mobile broadband.

“Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Department of Transportation must work together with industry to help meet this demand, while also ensuring that the transportation technologies utilizing this band can operate safely when such technology is deployed in the future,” the senators said.

The senators were pretty much preaching to the choir.

On June 1, the FCC issued a public notice on the 5.9 GHz band, including setting a January 2017 deadline for completing testing of sharing in the band.

Cable operators have been pushing for more 5 GHz spectrum to fuel their Wi-Fi hotspots, the industry's primary mobile broadband play.

The FCC has an open inquiry into using the band for unlicensed, and DOT has agreed on testing the co-existence of vehicle-to-vehicle communications (intelligent transportation system [ITS] devices) and Wi-Fi.

Wheeler joined by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, in January outlined a three-phase device-testing regime to potentially open up new spectrum in the 5.9-Gigahertz band for more cable WiFi hotspots without interfering with automobile crash-avoidance systems.

Unlicensed devices will have to pass all three tests before any conclusions are drawn about whether Wi-Fi and V2V can coexist.

That testing regime came in response to Hill pressure to find a resolution and free up the spectrum. At that time, the FCC signaled it would be refreshing the record.

The goal is clash avoidance as well as crash avoidance given that the cable and automotive industries have come together after tensions over whether the band could be opened up to unlicensed without threatening those nascent intelligent automotive systems.

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.