The FCC Should Choose American Lives Over Chinese Companies
(Jacob Ford/Odessa American via AP)
The FCC Should Choose American Lives Over Chinese Companies
(Jacob Ford/Odessa American via AP)
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Memorial Day is next week, and now that America is opening up again, road deaths will likely rise. That’s why it’s vital to challenge a Federal Communications Commission rule that shifts radio spectrum from transportation safety uses to unlicensed Wi-Fi. The deadline for a challenge is June 2.

Without allocated spectrum, certain transportation-related technology will be jeopardized. American drivers will have higher accident rates, and American companies will not be able to develop lifesaving technologies.

Any agency or company can ask a judge to reexamine the FCC’s rule. The Department of Transportation can petition, because the FCC has not accounted for comments from the Department and other safety groups. This provides reason for a judge to stay the FCC’s rule.

The FCC plans to reallocate 45 megahertz of the 75 megahertz currently assigned to traffic safety and intelligent transportation systems to unlicensed Wi-Fi. The remaining 30 megahertz is not sufficient for transportation uses, including platooning trucks, safety, autonomous vehicles, and traffic flow.

Free Wi-Fi enables people to access the Internet in public places, or put routers in homes, or operate remote-controlled toys. Vast amounts of spectrum have already been allocated by the FCC for unlicensed Wi-Fi, but precious little has been set aside for traffic safety.

The FCC rule should be challenged on four grounds:

(1) Safety. Transportation safety spectrum enables vehicles to be connected and reduce crashes. Toyota was planning in 2018 to install this technology on its vehicles, but two FCC commissioners told it to hold off. Deaths on the road rose to 42,000 in 2020 from 36,000 in 2019, even though miles driven declined. The FCC’s rule did not account for the benefits of lives saved.

(2) Intelligent Transportation Systems and Smart Cities. Spectrum enables coordinated traffic lights and less congestion, so less pollution and fewer headaches for drivers. Twenty-five states have deployed this technology, and the FCC has 1,000 unapproved applications.

Firefighters and ambulances can preempt traffic signals so they can turn lights from red to green as they speed through intersections, enabling them to get to incidents faster and prevent accidents. Emergency responders in the 23 square miles of Marietta, Georgia use this system. “Seconds matter when you talk about lives,” said Marietta fire chief Tim Milligan. The FCC did not account for benefits of smoother traffic flow.

(3) International competitiveness. Much of Europe and Asia has reserved the same band of spectrum for safety and efficiency. U.S. drivers should be as safe as foreign drivers. American companies need spectrum to compete in automotive technology.

The FCC’s decision will result in the centers of this technology moving away from the United States to other countries such as China. Millions of cars across the world will have Chinese rather than American transmitting components.

China is the location of the headquarters of 134 corporate members of the Wi-Fi Alliance, the organization spearheading lobbying efforts at the FCC to take away transportation safety spectrum. Huawei is a sponsor of the Wi-Fi Alliance. The FCC announced on March 21 that Huawei “poses an unacceptable risk to U.S. national security,” along with Hangzhou Hikvision, another Wi-Fi Alliance contributor.

Ironically, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently introduced the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 to promote American technology and innovation and limit cooperation with China. It sets up a “Made in America Office.”

This concern about China is bipartisan. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ed Markey (D-MA) this week introduced the Secure Equipment Act of 2021, which would not allow the FCC to approve equipment from companies that pose a national security threat, including Huawei.

(4) Process. The FCC’s rule did not incorporate the comments of the Department of Transportation, nor did it account for the value of lives saved and injuries avoided from new technology.

The Transportation Department stated that the FCC’s plan is “unworkable and undermines innovation in transportation safety;” that the “FCC undervalues the transportation safety benefits” of the spectrum; and that the “FCC has prematurely chosen an unproven technology ‘winner.’”

The National Transportation Safety Board asserted in a filing, “The NTSB believes there will be negative safety consequences from releasing a large part of the spectrum to mainly Wi-Fi devices and limiting safety operations to a smaller part of the spectrum.”  Also opposed to the FCC rule are representatives of safety organizations such as the Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, as well as various auto and truck associations.

The June 2 filing deadline is less than a week away. The Department of Transportation and others should challenge the FCC decision before it is too late. The choice is between the interests of the American public or the interests of Chinese companies. It shouldn’t be a difficult choice.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, adjunct professor of economics at George Washington University, was deputy assistant secretary for research and technology at the U.S. Department of Transportation and chief of staff of the Council of Economic Advisers.

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