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Top Democrat: FCC actions are a 'potential setback' to autonomous vehicles

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioHouse moderates unveil .25T infrastructure plan This week: Democrats set to begin chaotic three-week sprint Biden rejects new GOP offer as spending talks drag on MORE (D-Ore.) on Wednesday sharply criticized the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for relocating spectrum in a way that critics have said could hurt the development of autonomous vehicles.

“We’ve got problems with the Federal Communications Commission, and they are impinging upon the bandwidth that we need for vehicle to vehicle communication,” DeFazio told The Hill’s Steve Clemons during a virtual event.

DeFazio’s comments came after the FCC last year split the 5.9 GHz band, previously reserved for vehicle safety communications, between unlicensed spectrum operations, such as WiFi for internet connected devices, and an advanced automobile safety technology.

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The bandwidth had previously been reserved since 1999 for communication between vehicles, and was an essential part of the development of self-driving cars.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has jurisdiction over the FCC, with DeFazio noting that while he had tried to address the issue, his panel does not have oversight of this issue.

“I’ve opposed this bitterly, they are still moving ahead with it. I’ve tried to get an appropriations rider, I’ve tried to get...the committee of jurisdiction to take strong action. They haven’t,” DeFazio said, noting that former Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine ChaoThe FCC's decision to reallocate the safety band spectrum will impede efforts to save lives Top Democrat: FCC actions are a 'potential setback' to autonomous vehicles The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - US vaccine effort takes hit with Johnson & Johnson pause MORE had “objected to what they were doing.”

“They are still plowing ahead, so that is a potential setback and a potential problem,” DeFazio said at The Hill's "Future of Mobility Summit," sponsored by Siemens.

DeFazio sent a letter to FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica RosenworcelJessica RosenworcelTop Democrat: FCC actions are a 'potential setback' to autonomous vehicles Biden needs to counter Russia and China to secure our digital future To build lasting digital equity, look to communities MORE in March expressing his “continued strong opposition” to the agency's decision to split the 5.9 GHz band, which he also labeled the “Safety Band.”

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“Since 1999, the 5.9 GHz band has been reserved for dedicated short-range communications to enable vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications,” DeFazio wrote. “V2X communications and the technologies they will enable—namely connected vehicles—will make our transportation networks smarter, more efficient, and, most importantly, safer.”

“Unfortunately, in its actions to date, the FCC appears more concerned with faster Wi-Fi than transportation safety,” he added.

The FCC approved the relocation of spectrum with all five commissioners either agreeing or concurring in November. Former FCC Chairman Ajit PaiAjit PaiBiden revokes Trump-era order targeting shield for website operators Top Democrat: FCC actions are a 'potential setback' to autonomous vehicles Two telemarketers fined record 5M for robocalls MORE wrote in a statement at the time that less than 1 percent of vehicles on U.S. roads used the spectrum for short-range communications, with automated vehicles instead used V2X communications while WiFi needs had massively increased.

“Life is too short for us to make the mistake of continuing to allow valuable spectrum to lay fallow because of the false promise of a technology that has been stuck in the starting blocks for too many years,” Pai wrote. “We owe it to American consumers to put this spectrum to work for them and to quickly expand the capacity of unlicensed services and modernize transportation safety technology.”

The issue of self-driving cars has been a hotly debated topic on Capitol Hill over the past few years, particularly as states begin to implement their own regulations around the testing and development of autonomous vehicles in the absence of nationwide rules.

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The House approved legislation in 2018 to create standards for testing and deployment of these vehicles, but the GOP-controlled Senate failed to take up similar legislation.

Sens. Gary PetersGary PetersSenior Biden cyber nominees sail through Senate hearing Colonial Pipeline may use recovered ransomware attack funds to boost cybersecurity OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden ends infrastructure talks with key Republican | Colonial Pipeline CEO grilled over ransomware attack | Texas gov signs bills to improve power grid after winter storm MORE (D-Mich.) and John ThuneJohn Randolph Thune'The era of bipartisanship is over': Senate hits rough patch Bipartisan talks sow division among Democrats Senate passes long-delayed China bill MORE (R-S.D.) have repeatedly attempted to reintroduce legislation in the years since, with Thune saying Wednesday he would attempt to add legislation to the Endless Frontiers Act when it comes to the Senate floor for a vote.

“The time is now to address this issue, and we shouldn’t let that opportunity slip away,” Thune said during a Senate Commerce Committee markup of the Endless Frontiers Act.