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Appeals court backs FCC opening door to better in-vehicle safety features, Wi-Fi

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Legal | Technology
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The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has upheld the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s decision to reallocate a portion of the country’s radio spectrum for unlicensed devices, such as Wi-Fi routers, rather than for intelligent transportation systems for vehicles. In short, that means consumers could soon have access to in-vehicle safety features and better Wi-Fi.

The FCC’s rule was approved in 2020 with “mixed reactions,” according to the court’s opinion, which was written by Circuit Judge Justin Walker. As for repairers, the decision could mean even more to learn about advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and other new vehicle capabilities that must be repaired back to OEM standards.

“Intelligent transportation systems make driving safer by allowing vehicles to communicate with each other on the road,” Walker wrote. “…Several groups that want to retain their old use of the reallocated spectrum argue that the FCC’s reallocation was arbitrary and capricious. It was not. Car crashes cause thousands of deaths and millions of injuries every year in the United States. …To combat that, Congress has long passed laws aimed at enhancing vehicle safety.

“…One such law was the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. …That act instructed the Department of Transportation to ‘develop and maintain a national’ intelligent transportation system to decrease accidents and improve overall travel efficiency. …The theory was that cars would be equipped with intelligent transportation systems that allow them to communicate with each other and avoid accidents.”

However, Walker continued, while the FCC opened up the 5.9 GHz band in 1999 for use by vehicle safety systems, there have been “no commercially-marketed vehicles” that have used it, as of 2020. Because of the lack of use, the FCC ruled in 2020 that the upper 30 megahertz of the 5.9 GHz band (5.895 to 5.925 GHz) would be kept for use by intelligent transportation systems and the lower 45 megahertz could be used by unlicensed devices. The decision also came with the requirement that intelligent transportation systems use cell towers and other devices to communicate rather than through “dedicated short-range” communications.

The Intelligent Transportation Society of America and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials appealed the FCC’s order and asked that the reallocation of the lower 45 megahertz of the spectrum be vacated “but leave in place the rest of the order dealing with what technology intelligent transportation systems use,” according to the opinion. The Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network petitioned the court to vacate the entire order.

“All the Petitioners argue that the FCC’s order was arbitrary and capricious because it violated the Transportation Equity Act,” Walker wrote. “The Transportation Petitioners also argue that the FCC failed to adequately explain its decision and unlawfully revoked or modified FCC licenses. We disagree on all fronts. …The FCC’s order did not violate the Transportation Equity Act. The FCC has ‘broad authority to oversee wire and radio communication in the United States’ and must promote ‘effective use of radio in the public interest.'”

Reuters reports that NCTA – The Internet & Television Association said the decision “is an enormous victory for American consumers” because it provides them “with even more reliable high-speed Wi-Fi and access to next-generation automotive safety applications.”

Automakers opposed the decision while major cable, telecom and content companies say the spectrum is “essential to support growing Wi-Fi use,” according to Reuters.


Featured image: supergenijalac/iStock

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