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Safety in Name, Commercial in Fact: The Auto Industry Spectrum Squatting Campaign on 5.9 GHz Widens the Digital Divide

from the not-helping dept

Here’s an idea for a business model. Instead of using valuable spectrum to close the digital divide by opening it for everyone to use, get the FCC to give us exclusive use for free. Next, convince states and the federal government that rather than build broadband networks to the disconnected in rural America, they should build out our network (also at no cost to us). Then we will use this network to harvest everyone’s driving information while serving up advertisements and other commercial services. In order to persuade taxpayers to support it, we’ll pretend the network is “absolutely essential” to preventing car accidents, despite the recent development of superior technology. To really sell the idea, we’ll label this piece of spectrum the “Safety Band.”

Welcome to the auto industry business plan for the 5.9 GHz band, 75 MHz of spectrum originally allocated to the auto industry for free back in 2004. However, the FCC is now proposing to reclaim 45 MHz of this for much-needed rural broadband and Wi-Fi 6 to better connect America. This would leave 30 MHz for intelligent traffic management and auto safety technologies, but would not leave any space available for the auto industry’s commercial applications.

Needless to say, the auto industry opposes this tooth and nail, and has enlisted the help of the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to block the FCC’s effort to help close the digital divide. Additionally, the auto industry has consistently opposed efforts by consumer groups to have the FCC prohibit commercial uses and impose privacy protections on the band. Americans will be far better served -- and much safer on the road -- if the FCC follows through on its plan to repurpose the commercial part of the auto industry’s “safety band” for other uses.

A Brief History of 5.9 GHz – From “Safety Band” to $afety Band

For nearly two decades, the auto industry has pushed the idea of wireless “intelligent traffic” systems as a means of promoting safety. At the same time, however, the auto industry has made it equally clear to investors and equipment designers that the industry intends to use this network for commercial purposes as well. In 2004, the FCC adopted the auto industry plan to take 75 MHz of spectrum and reserve it exclusively for “Dedicated Short-Range Communications” (DSRC) for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) (and generically “V2X”) communications. However -- unlike other bands reserved for public safety purposes at the time -- the FCC permitted the auto industry to use these reserved frequencies for commercial purposes as well as safety purposes. The FCC restricts only two channels (totaling 20 MHz) to “collision avoidance” and “safety-of-life” applications, leaving the bulk of the spectrum available for commercial use.

Despite support from the auto industry, DSRC technology failed to catch on in the market.

There were many reasons for this. For one thing, V2X technologies only work to avoid collisions if the other car has a compatible V2X technology. This makes it absolutely useless against existing cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, or even stray deer. Other technologies, like LIDAR, do a much better job avoiding collisions, which is why these technologies caught on in the market and DSRC remains virtually undeployed. The auto industry responded to this market rejection by persuading the NHTSA to start a rulemaking to require DSRC in every new car whether consumers wanted the technology or not, and convincing federal and state agencies to invest hundreds of millions of dollars building DSRC “safety networks” for the auto industry to use for free. (The Trump Administration killed the DSRC rulemaking as part of its general deregulatory agenda in 2017.)

Reclaiming 5.9 GHz for Rural Broadband and Gigabit Wi-Fi to Connect America

The FCC began a set of proceedings in 2013 to expand the spectrum available for unlicensed uses with a particular eye toward expanding the 5 GHz band generally. For technical reasons, expanding existing bands creates huge advantages for increasing available bandwidth. The FCC hoped to expand the unlicensed portions of the 5 GHz band to enhance the ability of rural wireless internet service providers (WISPs) using the existing 5.8 GHz unlicensed band to offer real broadband in rural America, and creating the capacity for gigabit Wi-Fi in people’s homes. The FCC initially tried to work with the auto industry and NHTSA to find a way for unlicensed sharing to co-exist on a non-interfering basis with DSRC. That, to put it mildly, did not go well.

After nearly 20 years of waiting for the auto industry to make use of the 5.9 GHz band, and spending five years trying to work with the auto industry on a win-win solution, the FCC finally had enough. A unanimous FCC voted last December to propose simply taking away the 45 MHz of spectrum that the auto industry wants for commercial uses, leaving the auto industry with the 30 MHz needed to do actual safety and collision avoidance. (As the FCC noted, this 30 MHz is approximately what both Japan and the European Union allocate for similar technology.) The FCC proposal would also open the 30 MHz safety band to other V2X technologies, such as LTE-based V2X, that use existing mobile networks.

Needless to say, the auto industry did not take this lying down. Lobbyists have pressed the “safety band” argument consistently, while acting offended whenever someone points out that 30 MHz leaves them plenty of spectrum for actual highway safety uses if the industry just drops the commercial aspect. Of course, the auto industry says it’s “not about the money.” The industry claims it just expects even more awesome safety features at some indefinite time in the future and therefore requires all 75 MHz of spectrum for when that magical day arrives. In the meantime, though, the auto industry argues it might as well use the extra 45 MHz of spectrum for collecting people’s personal driving information and serving them personal ads -- solely in the name of efficiency, of course.

For the Auto Industry, It’s About the Money -- Not Saving Lives

As the old adage goes, when someone says, “it’s not the money, it’s the principle,” you know it’s about the money. In 2016, Public Knowledge -- joined by a number of other public interest organizations -- asked the FCC to prohibit commercial operation on the entire DSRC service and to impose privacy rules preventing the auto industry from using the information it collects from consumers for commercial purposes.

For the last four years, the auto industry has refused a non-commercial condition on a band that the industry itself claims is strictly for safety, arguing that it’s the “principle of the thing” that forces them to reject the condition. Likewise, while repeatedly affirming a deep and sincere commitment to protecting customer privacy, the auto industry refuses to accept any limitations on information collected outside the dedicated public safety channels. As one lobbyist for the industry put it: “On the commercial side, it’s whatever the privacy policy of the application provider is. . . . like Facebook.”

Furthermore, although publicly defending the V2X as a life-saving technology, the auto industry has pressed developers to include commercial applications in equipment and as an explicit part of the business case for adopting the technology. Even NHSTA, the regulator-turned-advocate for the auto industry, touts the commercial uses of DSRC and other V2X technologies.

As the FCC draws closer to a decision, expect to hear more from the auto industry and its surrogates about how the “safety band” saves lives while Wi-Fi just streams Netflix and cat videos. As hopefully everyone has learned in the current pandemic, access to broadband absolutely saves lives. Reclaiming 45 MHz from the 5.9 GHz band will help bring real broadband to rural America and to everyone dependent on Wi-Fi hotspots for access. The auto industry will still have plenty of dedicated spectrum for an actual safety band -- it just won’t be a $afety band.

Harold Feld is Public Knowledge’s Senior Vice President. For more than 20 years, Feld has practiced law at the intersection of technology, broadband, and media policy in both the private sector and in the public interest community. Feld has an undergraduate degree from Princeton University, a law degree from Boston University, and clerked for the D.C. Court of Appeals.

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Filed Under: 5.9 ghz, automotive industry, digital divide, fcc, nhtsa, rural internet, safety band, spectrum, wifi


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  • icon
    Shel10 (profile), 26 Oct 2020 @ 1:53pm

    5.9 Automotive

    I don't recognize your name Mr. Field, but I can assure you that the Auto industry had nothing to do with convincing the FCC that spectrum was required to support safety applications. The TRB (Transportation Research Board) had a committee on communications which in 1994 began a research project to develop the requirements to provide for communications services for transportation. I was a member of that committee. I don't recall any individual from the Auto industry on that committee. The committee did reach out to GM, Ford and Chrysler for information. You may recall that GM - at that time - was promoting a new product - ON Star - which used Cellular services for communication. GM did not want any competition.

    In 1996, I became Chair of the ITS America Telecommunications Committee. The members were volunteers. We hired an Attorney specializing in FCC matters, and an engineering firm specializing in RF systems to support our approach to the FCC. IEEE formed the 802.11p committee to develop the standards.

    It took nearly 10 years to develop standards and use cases before the Transportation community could begin deployment. The infrastructure is being developed by local and state government. There is no proprietary auto data being transported over the public infrastructure. The manufacturers must use other wireless means to collect their data. Other companies that want the automotive data must provide their own applications and can't use the DSRC spectrum.

    Please do a better job of investigating before making ungrounded claims.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2020 @ 2:21pm

      Re: 5.9 Automotive

      Maybe you could explain why the auto industry is fighting tooth and nail for an unnecessarily large band which they haven't used for safety whatsoever in over 20 years? Why can't the FCC have part of that band back to repurpose? Why is the industry literally contradicting your implications, regardless as to what the facts were in 1994 (a year in a decade not even covered in the article).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Shel10 (profile), 26 Oct 2020 @ 7:08pm

        Re: Re: 5.9 Automotive

        1. The mobile units (OBU) can talk to each other, but can't go through the infrastructure without connecting to a fixed unit (RSU) which is operated by a municipality, or a county, or state.
        2. The government agencies are not passing any data collected from the vehicles past their own servers.
        3. The data collected by the intersection devices (RSU) is simply location, direction and speed, plus time of day. There is no other information collected - THE AUTO MANUFACTURERS DON'T SEND THE VEHICLE DATA TO THE DSRC INFRASTRUCTURE. THEY VIEW THE VEHICLE FUNCTIONAL AND PERFORMANCE INFORMATION AS PROPRIETARY.
        4. The vehicle performance data can be collected by using another wireless system, not the spectrum reserved for safety. Typically, this would be Cellular. That why the auto industry is hoping that 5G will provide the support requiured. The other way to collect the data is by a physical connection to the CAN bus or the OBDII port.
        5. IT TOOK 16 YEARS BECAUSE THE TRANSPORTATION COMMUNITY IS COMPOSED OF CIVIL AND TRAFFIC ENGINEERS WHO DON'T HAVE THE BACKGROUND FOR DEVELOPING A NEW RADIO SERVICE FROM SCRATCH!!!!!! IT TOOK MORE THAN 10 YEARS FOR THE IEEE STANDARDS COMMITTEE TO AGREE ON THE TRANSMISSION AND DATA STANDARDS. ANOTHER 3 YEARS FOR POTENTIAL MANUFACTURERS OF THE RADIO SYSTEMS TO DEVELOP PRODUCT.
        6. The actual 75 MHz of bandwidth was set aside military radar which was being used at various locations around the U.S. It was never part of the ISM (instrument, scientific, medical) band. YOU CAN'T TAKE SOMETHING BACK THAT YOU NEVER HAD.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2020 @ 8:45pm

          Re: Re: Re: 5.9 Automotive

                      Why can't the FCC have part of that band back …?

          YOU CAN'T TAKE SOMETHING BACK THAT YOU NEVER HAD.

          Shouting doesn't make your argument.

          Communications Act of 1934 [47 USC § 301]

          It is the purpose of this chapter, among other things, to maintain the control of the United States over all the channels of radio transmission; and to provide for the use of such channels, but not the ownership thereof, by persons for limited periods of time, under licenses granted by Federal authority, and no such license shall be construed to create any right, beyond the terms, conditions, and periods of the license. . . .

          (Emphasis added.)

          That language about the “ownership” of “such channels” didn't originate in the Act of June 19th, 1934. Rather, that language about “ownership” goes back to the Radio Act of 1927.

          Are you seriously claiming that the military gave some sort of title to a frequency band directly to the automotive manufacturers? Like just sorta sold it off thru an army-navy surplus outlet?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Shel10 (profile), 26 Oct 2020 @ 10:11pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 5.9 Automotive

            Yes... If you bother to read the Code of Federal Regulations for the FCC where this is regulated, you will see that the DSRC spectrum is provided on a secondary basis to military bases which use it for their ground base radar systems.

            "Ownership" in the original Radio Act of 1927 says that the people "own" the radio spectrum. Some of the radio spectrum is allocated for use by the military.

            Even the Cell companies which pay big bucks for the spectrum they use don't own their frequencies. They only have the right to use the radio spectrum.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2020 @ 10:16pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 5.9 Automotive

                         Are you seriously claiming that the military gave some sort of title to a frequency band directly to the automotive manufacturers?

              Yes.

              Thank you for your straight-forward answer to my question.

              Have a nice day.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Shel10 (profile), 27 Oct 2020 @ 8:26am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 5.9 Automotive

                Sorry... I misread your statement. The frequencies used by Federal agencies (DoD, FBI, Treasury, etc.) are detailed by the FCC and managed by a special office within the FCC. These frequencies are not part of the public record.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Shel10 (profile), 27 Oct 2020 @ 8:17am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 5.9 Automotive

            I'm shouting because the reply comments are being made by individuals who have not bothered to do a little research before commenting.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 26 Oct 2020 @ 2:38pm

    Y'all have had 16 years to do something with it...
    We're taking it all back.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    united9198 (profile), 26 Oct 2020 @ 3:52pm

    Data Grab

    The auto industry has been very aggressive in developing their ability to grab as much consumer data as they can because they can monetize it. They are interested in safety only as far as it meets their needs, but data....the more they get, the better they like it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Shel10 (profile), 26 Oct 2020 @ 7:09pm

      Re: Data Grab

      The mobile units (OBU) can talk to each other, but can't go through the infrastructure without connecting to a fixed unit (RSU) which is operated by a municipality, or a county, or state.
      The government agencies are not passing any data collected from the vehicles past their own servers.
      The data collected by the intersection devices (RSU) is simply location, direction and speed, plus time of day. There is no other information collected - THE AUTO MANUFACTURERS DON'T SEND THE VEHICLE DATA TO THE DSRC INFRASTRUCTURE. THEY VIEW THE VEHICLE FUNCTIONAL AND PERFORMANCE INFORMATION AS PROPRIETARY.
      The vehicle performance data can be collected by using another wireless system, not the spectrum reserved for safety. Typically, this would be Cellular. That why the auto industry is hoping that 5G will provide the support requiured. The other way to collect the data is by a physical connection to the CAN bus or the OBDII port.
      IT TOOK 16 YEARS BECAUSE THE TRANSPORTATION COMMUNITY IS COMPOSED OF CIVIL AND TRAFFIC ENGINEERS WHO DON'T HAVE THE BACKGROUND FOR DEVELOPING A NEW RADIO SERVICE FROM SCRATCH!!!!!! IT TOOK MORE THAN 10 YEARS FOR THE IEEE STANDARDS COMMITTEE TO AGREE ON THE TRANSMISSION AND DATA STANDARDS. ANOTHER 3 YEARS FOR POTENTIAL MANUFACTURERS OF THE RADIO SYSTEMS TO DEVELOP PRODUCT.
      The actual 75 MHz of bandwidth was set aside military radar which was being used at various locations around the U.S. It was never part of the ISM (instrument, scientific, medical) band. YOU CAN'T TAKE SOMETHING BACK THAT YOU NEVER HAD.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2020 @ 7:51pm

      Re: Data Grab

      They are interested in safety only as far as it meets their needs, but data....the more they get, the better they like it.

      Which means it has no interest in safety. After all we banned cellphone use by drivers for the distraction they create, and the industry's response was to unleash info-tainment centers into the dashboard of every new model moving forward.

      Now the industry wants to put ads in those info-tainment centers. I'm sure the ads will be auto-playing and crank the volume up to the max as well. At least until it kills enough people that the ads get toned down a bit through threat of legislative action. Of course, the constant mandatory tracking won't be going anywhere.

      People dying and private activities monitored for cash... Yep sounds like the crap I'd expect from a failed state like the US.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2020 @ 3:54am

    I am not aware of any laws other than emission related, that restrict the modification of an one's own motor vehicle. Who or what is going to stop me from removing or disabling said eavesdropping equipment from my personal motor vehicle?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Oct 2020 @ 3:58am

      Re:

      ... and safety

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Shel10 (profile), 27 Oct 2020 @ 8:37am

      Re:

      The use of 5.9 spectrum has nothing to do with how you modify your vehicles. The Federal government has some basic requirements for safety and emissions, and states control the rest.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      fairuse (profile), 8 Nov 2020 @ 7:36pm

      Re:

      If you know what to disable. A 2020 Subaru for instance is a process control system with a bunch of driver monitoring subsystems, and crash avoidance system. <-- I summarize.

      There is no way any sane person would try to mess with it. My only rule is don't buy the AT&T wireless add-on - That is the other network that is being referred to.

      Bummer, no self drive yet. /snark

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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