AASHTO Signs on to Letter Supporting Transportation-Only 5.9 GHz Band

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials joined 13 other organizations in support of a letter sent by the National Safety Council to the Federal Communications Commission on October 28 calling for the retention of the 5.9 GHz wireless band as a “transportation-only” communication channel.

Graphic by the USDOT

“With the tremendous potential to improve transportation safety and the growth in demand for vehicle-to-everything (V2X) services, it is essential that the entire 5.9 GHz band – all seven channels – be retained for V2X, and that all measures are taken to smooth the path for deployment,” NSC said in its letter.

“Harmful interference from unlicensed devices sharing the same band could affect the speed at which a V2X message is delivered or even prevent delivery entirely,” the letter added.

“Now is the time for the FCC to commit to protecting the progress and investment made in V2X communications,” it said. “Sharing or rechanneling the 5.9 GHz band could nullify progress already made, unnecessarily delay implementation, devalue prior 5.9 GHz technology investment, and most importantly could lead to the unnecessary loss of lives.”

[Don Butler, executive director for connected vehicles and services at Ford Motor Company, explained during a presentation at AASHTO’s 2019 annual meeting why the 5.9 GHz ban is critical to the future of connected vehicle technology.]

The leaders of all 50 state departments of transportation, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico signed a similar letter in August, stressing that the “top priority” for the state DOTs and AASHTO “has been and will always remain” the safety of all transportation system users.

The debate over preserving the 5.9 GHz spectrum for transportation-only use has heated over the last few months, with some FCC officials calling for broader use of that spectrum in hearings on Capitol Hill, while federal transportation officials – such as Nicole Nason, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration – urged that the current “reserved” status for this wireless spectrum be maintained.

Nicole Nason. Photo by FHWA.

“[We’re] working to ensure there is enough bandwidth for widespread adoption of new AV technologies [and] the 5.9 GHz band is of critical importance to us in reducing crashes, injuries, fatalities, and overall traffic congestion,” Nason said in remarks at the 2019 Automated Vehicles Symposium held in Orlando, Florida.

“That’s why it’s called ‘The Safety Band’ [because] this small slice of the spectrum is widely used by state and local departments of transportation for vehicle-to-vehicle and pedestrian-collision avoidance,” she explained. “It is also used for transit priority, traffic monitoring and congestion detection, traveler alerts, and snow plow and emergency vehicle traffic signal preemption.”

“The 5.9 GHz band has been part of the spectrum that has been reserved for use for life-saving transportation technologies,” Jim Tymon, AASHTO’s executive director explained in a statement. “At a time when we are trying to get to zero traffic fatalities, the FCC should stay the course and not give up the spectrum that the transportation community has been counting on, and has already made considerable investments in, to help save lives.”

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