Money & Business

Auto Industry: WiFi Bill Could Hurt "Talking Cars"

By / Jun 24, 2014 (iStock/Thinkstock)

A new Senate bill that would open up more of the wireless spectrum is getting a chilly reception from auto trade groups, which say the plan could affect their efforts to introduce vehicle-to-vehicle communication. The groups say the bill could hold back a potentially lifesaving technology.

The tech world is on the hunt for additional wireless spectrum, and that’s causing headaches for the auto industry.

Last week, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the WiFi Innovation Act, which recommends opening up the 5.9 gigahertz band of  spectrum for public uses, such as increased WiFi access.

The bill has the support of the Consumer Electronics Association, among other tech groups.

But there’s a problem, the auto industry says: This spectrum band has already been set aside for vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2V), an up-and-coming innovation that automakers hope to introduce in cars within the next few years. The technology would essentially allow cars to “talk” to one another on the road, which could prevent many common accidents.

Given what’s at stake, an ill-informed decision on this spectrum is a gamble.

Safety At Risk?

Industry groups say the new bill could stifle the technology before it’s had a chance to get on the road—and worse, they warn, the competing wireless signals could lead to accidents.

“The lifesaving benefits of V2V communications are within reach,” Association of Global Automakers President and CEO John Bozzella said in a statement last week. “Given what’s at stake, an ill-informed decision on this spectrum is a gamble.”

Bozella emphasized that there’s room for the auto industry to work with the senators on a final bill, adding that it’s important to “continue to collaborate on ways to engineer, examine, and evaluate proposed spectrum-sharing strategies.”

Likewise, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said it was willing to compromise on the issue and even share the spectrum if necessary. But it added that “regulators must take a ‘do no harm’ approach and ensure that there is no harmful interference to the dedicated short-range communications that allow vehicles to communicate with each other and infrastructure.”

Working on a Solution

One organization watching the bill especially closely is the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, a group focused on the rise of V2V technology.

ITS America says it’s working on a collaborative effort to see whether the spectrum could be shared among computerized vehicles and unlicensed wireless spectrum, but it warns that any effort to shake up the current plans—the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a plan to formalize the V2V standard in February—could spell trouble.

“This process should be allowed to proceed without arbitrary deadlines, restrictive parameters, or political pressure that could influence the outcome,” ITS America said in a statement on the bill.

Other industries are also affected by the search for more spectrum: The Association of Public Television Stations recently warned of the ways a wireless auction could harm PBS stations.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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