Generations of American kids have been raised according to the maxim “safety first.” Apparently, two commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) now want to take it upon themselves to put safety second.
Unfortunately, there’s no other way to interpret a recent letter they sent to Toyota urging the company to reconsider its decision to deploy safety systems using Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) technology in its vehicles. (They may have artfully avoided the word “reconsider” in their letter, but their meaning was clear, and you can judge for yourself by reading the letter here: LINK.
Let’s start with the harsh reality: last year, an estimated 37,000 Americans lost their lives on our roads. The government’s foremost authority on auto safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has described DSRC as a game-changer that would help mitigate 80 percent of the crashes that involve drivers who aren’t impaired. And Toyota is going to put DSRC into action.
You’d think that this would make servants of the public interest, convenience and necessity happy. But apparently not. The rationale of the erstwhile spectrum regulators is that the FCC has an open proceeding on the 5.9 GHz safety spectrum band that supports DSRC. It’s been open since 2013, but the agency hasn’t released the results of its own testing to assess such crucial factors such as interference (a key to resolving questions about spectrum sharing). The Commissioners want spectrum sharing, but they won’t share the results of their own tests to determine if it’s feasible.
DSRC is currently the only technology licensed and ready for deployment for the safety spectrum. There’s no objection to other uses sharing that spectrum as long as it doesn’t compromise Vehicle-to-Vehicle safety technologies. But until that's established, the fact that there is an open rulemaking proceeding is a weak argument for delaying safety systems that are available and ready to begin saving lives today.
Government is a notoriously poor predicter of how technology will develop. Yet here we’ve got a case where the two FCC government officials are trying to discourage the private sector from developing a technology that would have huge societal benefits.
By all means, continue exploring spectrum sharing. But safety first.