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Tech, auto groups reach detente on wireless frequency testing

Tech, auto groups reach detente on wireless frequency testing
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Auto industry and telecommunications groups announced Thursday they had reached an understanding about how federal agencies should test ways for wireless devices and connected cars to share certain wireless spectrum.

Tech companies would like to use a frequency currently set aside for the technology such as Wi-Fi in vehicles. In a pair of letters sent to federal agencies Wednesday, lawmakers and business representatives encouraged the federal government to pursue testing methods that would allow the two industries to share the space while following certain principles.

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“We are committed to finding the best path forward to protect the development and deployment of advanced automotive safety systems while also considering the need for additional unlined spectrum to meet the increasing demand for wireless broadband Internet services,” wrote Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDespite veto threat, Congress presses ahead on defense bill Overnight Defense: Defense bill moving forward despite Trump veto threat over tech fight | Government funding bill hits snag | Top general talks Afghanistan, Pentagon budget Funding bill hits snag as shutdown deadline looms MORE (R-S.D.) and Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP urges Trump not to tank defense bill over tech fight Pressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Coast-to-coast fears about post-holiday COVID-19 spread MORE (R-Fla.) and Cory BookerCory BookerBiden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate Policy center calls for new lawmakers to make diverse hires Dangerously fast slaughter speeds are putting animals, people at greater risk during COVID-19 crisis MORE (D-N.J.) in a letter to the agency heads.

Rubio and Booker introduced a bill in February that, if passed, would ask the FCC to take a look at the effects of opening up the frequency in question to use for Wi-Fi.

The lawmakers sent the letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. News of the letter was first reported by Bloomberg BNA.

But that proposal has drawn scorn from the auto industry and its allies in Congress. Booker sparred with Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) in absentia at a July hearing as both used their time with witnesses to press their case on the issue.

"I certainly appreciate [Booker's] desire to open up that band, but I also want to thank the committee for slowing down that process," Peters said at the time. "We have some significant interests that are very concerned about what that means particularly in the area of safety."

Industry groups have now reached a detente, saying in their own letter that they supported the recommendations proposed by the lawmakers.

“We are dedicated to protecting lives on American public roadways and exploring opportunities for making spectrum available for private sector deployment,” the six groups, including the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and Qualcomm, said.

The groups and lawmakers said the federal agencies “should examine all reasonable options and mechanisms for sharing in the 5.9 [gigahertz] band for the avoidance of harmful interference from unlicensed to authorized users and licensees in the 5.9 GHz band.” They said testing should be completed by the end of 2016.

Under the proposed principles, the FCC would lead testing on the risk of interference related to sharing the spectrum. The Department of Transportation would take the lead on testing specific technology.

When possible, the lawmakers and groups said, “results and underlying data from any testing of 5.9 GHz unlicensed sharing proposals to be considered by the FCC should be made available to the public by placing such information in the FCC’s open docket; the data and results from tests of DSRC systems cited in comments filed with the FCC or conducted previously using federal funds and resources should also be published, where feasible.”

Wireless spectrum, which carries data to and from wireless devices, is a valuable resource. Thune is eyeing a spectrum reform bill to make it easier for wireless providers to obtain the spectrum used by government agencies. And next year, the FCC is expected to hold an auction where it will buy spectrum rights from broadcasters and sell it to wireless carriers.