November 17, 2020
For Immediate Release
Contact: Jason Levine, [email protected], 202-328-7700
The FCC is Making Rural Communities Less Safe in Exchange for Empty Promises
On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the federal agency charged with regulating communications and telephones over the objections of the vehicle safety community, the U.S. Department of Transportation , and even the auto industry, will vote to make our roads less safe, particularly in rural environments. This would be unacceptable under any circumstances, but it is even worse when considering that while only twenty percent of the U.S. population call rural areas home, forty-five percent of vehicle crash deaths are visited upon those communities. The fatality rate based on miles traveled in our rural communities is twice as high as in our urban areas.
Twenty years ago, Congress set aside a portion of the public airways to be dedicated to auto safety messaging, in other words: vehicles talking to vehicles (V2V) and vehicles talking to infrastructure, vehicles and other connected technologies (V2X). The FCC, however, has decided that more than half of the bandwidth assigned to the safety spectrum should be removed and opened up for the use of telecommunications companies, on the hopes they will provide additional WiFi with the overage. Sadly, hope will not prevent the next car crash on a dark rural road this winter or next.
The FCC suggests that the 5G networks of the future will be faster and more effective than currently available V2V technologies. Such a change, in the FCC’s opinion, could remove the need for reserved spectrum, and allow for the substitution of non-commercial, yet secure Direct Short-Range Communication, with widespread commercial deployment of high speed 5G networks and V2X. The FCC defends its actions by claiming, without evidence, that 5G networks will allow the widespread adoption of V2X in rural communities.
The reality is that widespread deployment of 5G that requires transceivers every 656 -1640 feet will require a steep infrastructure investment that few companies are willing to undertake on their own, and fewer rural communities have committed to building. Even if recent FCC funding incentives are utilized, operational 5G on rural roads will leave large gaps in coverage. This is due to the cost of relatively tightly spaced high-speed transceivers and the need to link those transceivers to a very high-speed internet backbone. The efficacy of the longer range, lower frequency, 5G components -no matter what the latest TV commercial may lead you to believe – has not yet been demonstrated as effective to support vehicle safety, particularly in sparsely populated rural areas.
It would be ironic, if it weren’t so tragic, that just as connected cars begin to bear the fruit of the years of research that will allow vehicles to communicate safety messages to each other, a department of the federal government without transportation safety expertise pulls the plug. Knowing that the FCC itself has discouraged use of this band for its intended use and has refused to license additional users, vehicle manufacturers have turned away from this most immediately promising technology, and are even hedging on how and whether to deploy the next generation of V2X. The FCC plans to cut the safety band down by more than half in part, they claim, because it is not being used enough. It is a neat trick that makes sense until one holds it up to the light. A 2018 study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute estimated that delaying the deployment of V2V technology means losing the opportunity to prevent millions of crashes and tens of thousands and deaths. The potential of added entertainment bandwidth is no replacement for a lost family member, no matter where you live.
For 50 years, the Center for Auto Safety has successfully led the fight for lemon laws in every state, airbags in every vehicle, and recall repairs being made at no cost to consumers. The Center is a membership-driven organization headquartered in Washington, DC and publishes TheCarBook.com, which for 40 years has been America’s most comprehensive car buying guide. The Center now offers, exclusively for members, the monthly Safety Tune-Up Report, featuring regular alerts on safety issues relating to their vehicles. To learn more please visit www.AutoSafety.org.