House E&C Wades Into 5 GHz Issue

Will Work With Agencies to Find Solution For Sharing Spectrum

The bipartisan leadership of the House Energy & Commerce Committee is weighing into the issue of freeing up unlicensed wireless spectrum in the upper 5 GHz band while still protecting intelligent automotive systems, like crash avoidance.

The committee said Monday it will hold a series of meetings with the FCC, Department of Commerce, and the Department of Transportation to discuss how "to safely increase unlicensed access to the 5.9 GHz band without harming the existing work being done to improve auto safety through Intelligent Transportation Systems."

The FCC has been studying whether cable WiFi using unlicensed spectrum and widespread intelligent vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications, which has a license to use the spectrum, can coexist in the 5.9 GHz band— the FCC thinks they can. Car companies want the FCC to err on the side of caution.

"In working with the FCC, NTIA, and the Department of Transportation, we hope to move forward in accelerating a solution that will be another example of the United States' leading the way in global spectrum policy," they said. "They" being full committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Communications  Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and ranking member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).

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

In February, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) reintroduced the WiFi Innovation Act, a bill they first introduced last June as one of a series of bills meant to boost wireless broadband.

The bill would require the FCC to test the feasibility of opening up the upper portion of the 5-GHz spectrum band for unlicensed use. 

In an unusual joint statement, Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly praised the committee move.

“We commend the Energy and Commerce leaders and enthusiastically support these efforts to facilitate allowing safe, unlicensed access to the 5.9 GHz band. More than a decade and a half after this spectrum was set aside for vehicle and roadside systems, we agree it is time to take a modern look at the possibilities for wireless services in these airwaves, to allow a broader range of uses. We believe by taking steps right now, we can support automobile safety, increase spectrum for Wi-Fi, and grow our wireless economy.”