Utilities Warn FCC About Impact of 6 GHz Wi-Fi Effort

The heads of electric and water trade associations have warned the FCC about moving too quickly to open up 6 GHz midband spectrum currently used by those utilities.

That warning came in a letter Wednesday (May 15) to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai from Sue Kelly, CEO of the American Public Power Association; G. Tracy Meehan III, executive director, government affairs of the American Water Works Association; Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute; Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association; and Joy Ditto, president of the Utilities Technology Council.

Together, they pointed out, they represent almost all of the nation's utilities and water and wastewater facilities.

Those utilities say they need the spectrum for their mission-critical communications and that the FCC's proposal to open it up for unlicensed Wi-Fi use is an untested and unproven approach that the FCC is pursuing despite the concerns of utilities as others about interference and/or congestion that threatens critical infrastructure.

The utilities say that the band is already heavily employed by its licensed users, and that licensed use is more reliable and robust.

Those communications nets are "used for critical situational awareness, underpin safety functions, and enable crews to safely repair and restore services after storms," as well as "the greater deployment of distributed energy resources such as solar or battery storage, smart meters, and other technologies to enable grid modernization."

"While our collective members fully understand and appreciate the need to make more efficient use of spectrum," they said. "We strongly encourage the Commission to weigh the advantages of expanding access to the 6 GHz band with the potential negative impact this could have on critical infrastructure networks."

The letter came a day after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was talking up 6 GHz's potential for Wi-Fi in a speech to the Wi-Fi World Congress in Tysons Corner, Va., outside Washington. He also said incumbent utilities must be protected.

“The truth is that this 6 GHz spectrum boost will launch the Wi-Fi industry into a new growth trajectory," Pai told his audience. "It will boost Wi-Fi’s massive indoor dominance. And surely—with the help of emboldened entrepreneurs everywhere—it will bring low-cost Wi-Fi (and unlicensed) connectivity to places where it has never been.”

Pai said he would need help to free up that spectrum.

"The 6 GHz band is populated by microwave services that are used to support utilities, public safety, and wireless backhaul," he said. "Each of these serves an important function that we must protect. We’re working through some complex technical issues both internally and with outside stakeholders, and that includes many in this room. I appreciate your input. But questions remain and the clock is always ticking, so I urge you to help us find creative solutions."

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.