Transportation department chiefs in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are urging the Federal Communications Commission to continue reserving a swath of wireless spectrum in the 5.9-gigahertz range for potential use by "talking cars."
"The loss of 36,750 lives last year on our nation's highways and streets demands that we act boldly," members of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials said in a Monday letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
The FCC set aside that part of the wireless spectrum for intelligent transportation in 1999 to encourage auto makers to develop lifesaving vehicle-to-vehicle technologies using dedicated short-range communications, known as DSRC. The objective was to give cars the ability to transmit messages to one another about road conditions and hazards.
Citing slow progress on talking cars, other industries have been pressuring the FCC to open that part of the spectrum for them to use. The Internet & Television Association has called the 5.9 GHz band "the future of Wi-Fi," saying it's a critical tool to end Wi-Fi bottlenecks.
Pai told the Wi-Fi World Congress in May that DSRC is stuck in neutral and it's time for the FCC to take a fresh look at the band and open a rule-making proceeding. In a Twitter post, he said the band had been "largely fallow for two decades," adding: "It's time to launch a comprehensive review of the future of this band, make a sober assessment of the facts, and then make a timely decision on the best way forward."
Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said it's possible the FCC could initiate rule-making as soon as next month to force auto makers to share the spectrum with nontransportation users.
The alliance contends NHTSA must complete a third testing phase to see if sharing the spectrum would even be safe.
"You can't have, call it low latency, where the signal isn't going fast enough because people are sharing it when you're in a car on a highway," Bergquist said.
"We actually want the ability to use the spectrum and have confidence in it for autos. And we can't really speak to the idea of sharing it yet because the testing hasn't been done. If they could do the testing, and we all feel confident, that's terrific. We could share it if the testing says we could, but we just need to be sure that the spectrum is going to be safe."
In December 2016, during the waning days of the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed mandatory installation of vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology on light vehicles using DSRC, but that effort has languished in the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, auto makers are divided on whether the Wi-Fi-based system is the best technology to enable talking cars.
Cadillac announced last year that it plans to offer V2X, or vehicle-to-everything, communications using DSRC in a high-volume crossover by 2023 and to eventually expand the technology across its portfolio.
But in April, the DSRC camp suffered a major blow when Toyota Motor Corp. said it was halting plans to install the technology in its vehicles. A few months earlier, Ford Motor Co. said that starting in 2022, it would outfit all new models with an alternative technology called cellular vehicle-to-everything technology, or C-V2X, which runs on 5G cellular networks. The auto maker gave Pai a C-V2X demonstration in an F-150 in June, and Pai later tweeted that the demo underscored the importance of discussing the 5.9 GHz band.
In their letter to Pai, the state transportation officials said the debate over how to best use the 5.9 GHz spectrum "should not be an excuse to open the spectrum for non-transportation safety purposes."