FCC Opens Debate on Sharing Airwaves Now Set for Use by Vehicles

  • Federal Communications Commission seeks comments, prototypes
  • Agency to consider if Wi-Fi, cars can share frequencies

Regulators will ask about sharing airwaves assigned for wireless car-to-car connections, pitting cable providers wanting more Web access for subscribers against automakers who say dividing the bandwith would compromise safety.

The Federal Communications Commission has voted to call for comments on the issue, an official briefed on the matter said. The agency with the same vote asked for prototype devices to test whether shared use causes interference in the airwaves, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter hasn’t been made public.

Auto manufacturers say they need all the designated airwaves for short-range radios that will help detect hazards, such as other cars approaching intersections.

Critics have said car companies can run the new safety systems using a portion of the allocation, and the rest can help meet soaring demand for mobile service.

Cable companies, with 400,000 Wi-Fi hotspots, want to give subscribers broad Internet access and back sharing the airwaves, according to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. The trade group’s members include top U.S. cable provider Comcast Corp. and No. 2 Charter Communications Inc.

Critics say the case for sharing is made stronger because safety systems envisioned more than a decade ago haven’t arrived.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, with members including Toyota Corp. and General Motors Co., counter that they soon will begin deploying the system. GM says some 2017 Cadillacs will include vehicle-to-vehicle radio links.

The FCC, Commerce Department and the Transportation Department earlier agreed to tests, according to a letter from the agencies the communications agency released in January. The agencies didn’t say when they would decide whether to allow other uses of the frequencies allocated to the auto industry in 1999.

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