Public Knowledge Applauds D.C. Circuit Court Ruling Affirming FCC’s Authority Over Spectrum

The court's decision marks a major victory toward closing the digital divide.

Today, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Federal Communications Commission’s November 2020 Report and Order to reclaim part of the 5.9 GHz spectrum band from the auto industry in the case, ITS America v. FCC. Public Knowledge filed an amicus brief in support of the FCC and commends the court for reinforcing the FCC’s authority over spectrum, marking a major victory toward closing the digital divide.

In 1999, the FCC gave the auto industry 75 MHz of spectrum exclusively for “Dedicated Short-Range Communications” (DSRC) for the purpose of improving public safety. After more than 20 years of waiting for the industry to deploy DSRC, in 2020 the FCC approved an Order to phase out DSRC and replace it with a new, more efficient technology called Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X).

As explained in our brief, the 30 MHz of spectrum the auto industry retained is more than sufficient for collision avoidance and safety purposes. Rather than allowing the auto industry to retain excess spectrum for commercial uses such as location-based advertising, the FCC repurposed the lower 45 MHz for unlicensed use which will enable next-generation Wi-FI. 

The new allocation of unlicensed in the 5.9 GHz band is adjacent to existing “unlicensed” spectrum in  5.8 GHz – making it possible for existing equipment to support gigabit Wi-Fi. This will enable critical new applications in the home such as distance learning and telemedicine.  Additionally, access to this extra spectrum will allow wireless internet service providers in rural areas to dramatically increase the stability and bandwidth of their networks.

The following can be attributed to Kathleen Burke, Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge:

“The D.C. Circuit’s opinion is a victory for the public interest. Not only did the court reaffirm the FCC’s authority as the expert agency over spectrum decisions, but it also upheld the FCC’s correct call to stop bankrolling the auto industry’s speculation on Intelligent Transportation Services that were still in development after more than 20 years.

“The Commission first authorized ITS licenses in 1999. Since then, technology and the public interest demands on our nation’s airwaves have changed. While ITS licensees were sitting on valuable spectrum they never put to use, new players delivered promising automotive public safety solutions using unlicensed and cellular technologies.

“By reaffirming the FCC’s decision, the D.C. Circuit will ensure that our airwaves are being put to their best and most efficient use. The 45 MHz of underutilized spectrum the FCC reallocated to unlicensed uses will enable more affordable internet access, particularly in rural and underserved areas; provide additional capacity to mobile services to offload data on overly congested wireless airwaves; and usher in next-generation Wi-Fi technology capable of supporting telemedicine, distance learning, and other valuable services.

“Just like the FCC, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals made the right call. Spectrum is too valuable of a resource to let unsuccessful technologies control its use for decades on end.”

You may view our amicus brief for more details on why Public Knowledge strongly supported the FCC’s authority over spectrum.