By on June 18, 2019

Two decades ago, the Federal Communications Commission decided to allocate a portion of the radio frequency spectrum for Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC). The plan was to utilize that slice of the airwaves for ultra-modern automotive technologies relating to vehicle-to-vehicle and/or vehicle-to-infrastructure communications. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a whole lot of activity on those channels.

The automotive industry was concerned it might need dedicated frequencies for use in autonomous-vehicle applications or some, yet unknown, technological advancement. But cable companies are annoyed that it’s being “wasted” and have started to antsy. They’ve asked the FCC to revoke carmakers’ exclusive rights to the frequencies and reallocate the majority of the 5.9-GHz band to the Wi-Fi systems that currently carry internet traffic for cable customers.

Hoping to encourage the commission to see things its way, Ford took FCC Chairman Ajit Pai out for a ride in an extra-special F-150 to plead its case. However, I feel like I can already predict whose side he’s going to take on this issue… and it isn’t going to be the automakers’. 

Rather than locking Pai inside the truck until he caves, Ford decided to show off the cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) tech it plans to deploy inside the U.S. for 2022. While the brunt of C-V2X’s magic won’t reveal itself until it can be networked with compatible systems, Ford claims it provides the ability for similarly quipped vehicles to communicate, as well as directly connect with traffic management infrastructure (traffic lights, speed cameras, etc). It also suggested that pedestrians could be better served by having their phones transmit their location to vehicles, helping autonomous systems to avoid disasters.

“Driver-assist technologies today and autonomous vehicles of the future utilize on-board sensors much in the way people use their eyes to navigate complex environments,” Don Butler, executive director of Ford’s connected vehicle program, said earlier this month. “C-V2X could complement these systems in ways similar to how our sense of hearing complements our vision to improve our ability to operate in a complex world.”

Unfortunately, I get the sense that automakers are chasing a dead end with Pai.

“The spectrum, for 22 years, has not reached its highest valued use, and that’s part of the reason why I think it’s important to have an open conversation,” Pai said at a Senate hearing last week. “I’m not saying what the answer should be, I’m simply saying let’s ask the questions that would enable us to have an informed conversation.”

Mr. Pai has routinely been accused of being a corporate shill for telecom providers. While the initial complains revolved around his former role as a lawyer for Verizon being at odds with the FCC’s mission, the took additional heat for his handling of net neutrality. Pai repeatedly pushed to revisit the issue, a move which was broadly viewed as him siding with cable companies. Ultimately, the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality rules — enacted just two years prior — in December of 2017… but not before a Pew Research study showed a ludicrously large portion of the millions of public comments sent to the FCC on the matter were fake.

“Some 57 [percent] of the comments utilized either duplicate email addresses or temporary email addresses created with the intention of being used for a short period of time and then discarded. In addition, many individual names appeared thousands of times in the submissions,” explains the study, adding that there was “clear evidence of organized campaigns to flood the comments with repeated messages” aimed at encouraging the FCC to revoke the standing rules.

After the vote, Pai acknowledged the comments were fake. Several days later, video footage leaked of him kidding about being a corporate asset during a Federal Communications Bar Association dinner. The prerecorded comedy skit incorporated Verizon executive Kathleen Grillo — who joking said the company always wanted to “brainwash and groom a Verizon puppet to install as FCC chairman.”

It was an odd decision and wouldn’t be the last cringe-inducing video featuring Pai from that period.

While there’s more relevant background on Pai available, you get the gist as to why I’m not confident automotive manufacturers will be able to hold onto the 5.9-GHz band. In a recent statement to Bloomberg, Ford claimed it was “critical” for the FCC to allow the cellular-based method to use the airwaves because it will eventually become the dominant technology for connected vehicles and the surrounding infrastructure. Most other OEMs have been inclined to agree, even if they aren’t working on the technology themselves. Meanwhile, some additional support is coming from the Department of Transportation.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao reportedly telephoned Pai to ask that the FCC not to use its June meeting to advance talks that could remove automakers’ ability to utilize the bandwidth. Other DOT officials have weighed in publicly, including Policy Undersecretary Derek Kan, who said “Preserving the spectrum for transportation safety, which can save lives, is probably more important than slightly faster Wi-Fi.”

While Pai hasn’t openly endorsed either position, he’s been dropping some unsubtle hints. Last month, during a an event that celebrated the enhanced Wi-Fi signals used in some hotel lobbies, he stated he was “quite skeptical” that maintaining the status quo for automakers was a good idea. Since then, he’s been talking about the importance of “starting a conversation” about the 5.9-GHz band.

He does, however, have one of the best fake smiles I’ve ever seen.

[Image: Aaron_Schwartz/Shutterstock]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

30 Comments on “Attention Automakers: Ajit Pai is Not Your Friend...”

  • avatar

    I guess the automakers haven’t greased Pai’s palm as well as the cable companies have.

    It is REVOLTING just how for-sale-to-the-highest-bidder our government is, people.

    • 0 avatar

      I understand that Pai has been under death threats
      “Net neutrality supporter sentenced for death threats to FCC Chairman Pai”

      Yes, the people backing “Net Neutrality” certainly did grease a lot of palms.

      I’ve read a few articles about the repeal of alleged “net neutrality” and not only did none of the dire consequences have come to pass but the net actually got much faster and better.

      Despite the facts the greased palms still want to control the net through “net neutrality”.

      Speaking of greased palms, I did see a former prez get like $60 million from Netflix for something or other that he knows nothing about. That’s a lot of grease, even for a Clinton who merely made $600k making speeches in Russia while his wife was Sec of State.

      • 0 avatar

        @thornmark No, the net did *not* get “much faster and better” due to the net neutrality repeal. About the only place you’ll see such statements is articles written by telco lobbyists and self-serving press releases from Pai’s office.

        (That makes sense, because any improvements in speed and access would necessarily have been planned months to years before the repeal took place, since capital projects take time to execute.)

        • 0 avatar

          actually, I am correct

          none of the dire consequences predicted have come to pass – just the reverse

          >>About the only place you’ll see such statements is articles written by telco lobbyists and self-serving press releases from Pai’s office.<<


          A big proponent of "neutrality" has been Netflix I believe, so that $60 million should be seen for what it was – pure grease

          • 0 avatar

            @thornmark: Of course, you completely ignored the rate increases for Netflix, YouTube and other better-known streaming sites, right? Net Neutrality was intended to ensure all users were charged an equitable price rather than big players having to pay more for bandwidth than smaller players.

          • 0 avatar

            @thornmark – there was nothing stopping the telcos from doing this under net neutrality – except that they would have to CONTINUE to be fair. They got their long-term freedom to be greedy – they’ll be good for a year or two to avoid making it too obvious, especially while their stooges are still in power. Wait and see what happens in a year or two if a Democrat is elected – they’ll blame it on them, but using the non-net-neutrality rules.

            Of course, AT&T’s “we’ll create tons of jobs due to tax cut” turned out to be “we’ve cut 23,000 jobs since the tax cut” – that’s a better sign of how truthful they are, IMHO. As I recall, even after promising all of their their workers $1000 bonuses, they laid a ton of them off BEFORE they would have to pay that bonus.

            @vulpine – he’s clearly made up his mind. Pai is Trump’s stooge, so that’s good enough for him.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s nothing compared to the fleecing we’re getting with Prez Trump’s golf outings on the people’s dime. It’s up to 102 million.

    • 0 avatar

      Always has been, but the current Administration doesn’t even pretend to protect the folks who most need it-consumer protection ? LOL. Pre existing conditions ? Right-but for McCain that would be toast too.

      The greed of telecoms to take over every single frequency is well known. Ham operators like myself are well aware of our loss of part of the 222 mhz band to UPS. There are often overtures to take over the 440 mhz band by various players. The whole HDTV move and “re pack” (if you get over the air, you’ll see rescan your set notices in some places when physical radio channels are moved) is to free UHF TV channels for sale to telecoms. Literally everything above 700 mhz is for sale, or coveted by them.

      Now, car makers aren’t totally blameless…a bit of CB trivia is that the reason old channel 23 is two channels above 22 is because the idea was that all cars would have a CB, and that 23 would be the emergency channel. 22a and 22b were to be a guard band. Car makers nixed the idea due to the expense of the radios at that time.

      Still, there is clearly an aspect of grabbing everything you can before 2020. It’s going to be a new low if Florida’s rally is anything to go by, but hopefully enough folks have seen through the Con.

      • 0 avatar

        Consumer protections make no sense if you view consumers as prey (or, more likely, herd animals).

        Consumer protections just get in the way of profits and that a bad thing in our late-stage capitalist society.

    • 0 avatar

      I remember when they gave this radio spectrum to the automakers, and wondering what could possibly be the use for all that bandwidth. Data that’s tied to your vehicle? There’s nothing stopping cars from communicating with each other right now, using bluetooth or WiFi or something. But what the hell do the cars have to tell each other? I think this idea is a dead end.

      • 0 avatar

        @chris724: Accelerating? Decelerating? Braking? Changing lanes? Turning? How fast? Intended path? There’s a lot of data the car could use that, when shared reduces the chance of an unexpected and therefore dangerous maneuver while under autonomous driving mode. A sudden lane shift due to obstacle? Tell the cars behind you. Pothole? Mark the location. Etc. The cars could do automatically what the CB radio was intended to enable for the drivers–keep them informed of road hazards while traveling.

        Now, add this to a traffic management network and the efficiency of the system multiplies; the TMS helps plot the most efficient route under current conditions and immediately notifies of any changes and needed re-routing due to police, fire or other responder activities. You reach your destination sooner and with less stress as every car is capable of enabling the network’s monitoring and management capabilities in real time, without the typical time lag of human responses to entertainment radio traffic reports.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Next special article on the Life of Pai.

  • avatar

    I am happy. No need wifi in cars. Cars are for driving

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Can’t say I agree with the headline or the article’s claims about Mr Pai.

    The mfrs claims about the efficacy of utilizing the 5.9 GHz for safety-related features are just claims.

    There could be a dark downside when we learn that dependency on these features sometimes doesn’t work out – as in people’s misplaced trust in Tesla’s Autopilot. It also could become a hacker’s playground, in which a car is involuntarily stopped by remotely transmitted false positives, creating more accidents or other mayhem.

    Frankly, I’m not that concerned with Mr Pai’s prior service with Verizon. It’s often helpful to have somebody familiar with an industry to eventually run the regulator.

  • avatar

    Apple, among others, have already talked about the need for inter-vehicular and vehicle to traffic-management system communications. There are millions of cars on the roads and the numbers of those needing that frequency will only increase over time.

  • avatar

    Cars are not our slaves, they have rights like right to talk to each other. Cars have AI now and feel lonely without Wi-Fi. Next step would be to give them voting rights- it will solve the problem. Remember we rely on cars for our safety, that is a serious staff. You do not want pissed off car in your garage.

  • avatar

    It takes 3-4 years to move an automobile from design to production. This is why the cars that we see at the dealer showroom floor always seem dated compared to the latest technology trends. The last great tech standard that moved the meter forward in the automotive world was OBD-ll/CAN bus in the mid-’90s. It is a cost-effective and reliable solution that addresses real-world problems. Ford’s wireless auto-network nonsense is straight out of the Silly Con Valley playbook. Great for shaking the money tree, but essentially impossible to implement in practice due to bandwidth and other physical limitations.

    • 0 avatar

      If image data is not being transmitted, and the range of a cell is relatively short (e.g. within a couple hundred yards of a traffic light and/or another vehicle), bandwidth wouldn’t be a problem at all.

      Nor am I sure what “physical limitations” you could be referring to. If the phone in my pocket can communicate for miles, I’m pretty sure a car could handle a couple hundred yards.

    • 0 avatar

      @Tim K: While I agree fully with your first sentence, the rest of your statement is illogical. And you are overlooking so many advances that have been made since the OBDII/CAN bus. Outside of the communications part of the equation, most of what’s needed for full autonomy is already installed in many models, advertised as safety and convenience features.

      The problem is that too many people believe that the car has to be a completely independent device, end to end, in the same way a human driver is. That’s not true. The reason humans crash so much is that they literally don’t know what any other driver is doing or thinking and we rely on a level of trust that works most of the time until somebody makes a mistake or simply chooses to do something stupid which causes other drivers to react–resulting in a crash where the guilty party may not even realized they caused one.

      Communications between vehicles and networked in with traffic management systems can streamline and organize the traffic flow to the point that the levels of congestion could be halved without even needing to reduce numbers (though that, too, would help.) Road closures would see instantaneous and automatic detours without the operators having to sit and wonder why traffic is slower than usual along habitual routes. Traffic could flow around a disabled vehicle like water around a stone until an automatically-dispatched recovery vehicle could arrive and pick it up with a minimal effect on traffic flow and next to no chance of a chain-reaction type of crash as each vehicle knows what the ones around it are doing.

      Of course, to reach full functionality would take about two generations of cars as manually-driven vehicles would need to be phased out and perhaps even legislated out in high-congestion areas. “Courtesy” would be a mandated safety practice by the autonomous vehicles as it actively reduces the risk of ‘impulse’ actions which can easily result in collisions otherwise. That such adoption and application has taken this long to achieve is far more due to individuals not wanting to give up control of their vehicles than it is due to any weakness in the design stage. At least one brand is already working on networking like-branded vehicles for such traffic integration but to be fully capable means all the systems will themselves need to communicate and integrate into an overall network. Again, the only real hindrance is the human factor.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    There is no industry on this planet that is as well-lobbied as the telecommunications industry. Recently, they railroaded legislation in every state to essentially strip local governments of all ability to regulate telecommunications infrastructure within their rights-of-way.
    As car folks we are used to an industry that has always been quite under the government’s thumb. But for the telecoms, it’s the wild west and anything goes. Very few legislators have any real knowledge of the issues they are voting on concerning telecommunications, so the industry gets to write it’s own legislation.
    It’s the most ruthless, cutthroat, oppressive and dirty business in the world. There’s no good reason to expect Trump to install anyone but an insider to the FCC post.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “There is no industry on this planet that is as well-lobbied as the telecommunications industry.”

      I’d argue the US public education system has them beat. When it’s for the children, any demand is a worthy one.

      “There’s no good reason to expect Trump to install anyone but an insider to the FCC post.”

      Would you prefer the President install someone who knows nothing about the industry?

  • avatar

    I remember when they first started doing the “band shift dance”. One area that had been completely off their radar was the bands used by theater, film and music venue/live sound users for wireless mics and communication in each of those industries. The initial move had a significant effect in that it caused many of these users to have to buy all new devices as the bands in then current use were rendered unusable due to the shifts in how different bands were allocated and/or restricted. The better manufacturers offered reduced prices on replacing some of the hardware then in use. A “last minute” lobby of lawmakers by the industry also helped mitigate some of the impact. It seems that government is quite short sighted in some instances, this being one. Our fascination with technology just may be our undoing. Or . . .I’m completely wrong. Excuse me, I must pay attention to my smarty pants phone. . .

  • avatar

    So basically, Pai is laying the groundwork to make the auto sector bid for the spectrum they previously were getting for free.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • probert: It has no trunk…badoing.
  • probert: KIA/Hyundai’s have buttons, knobs and levers for critical functions. Easy to use and everything falls...
  • probert: I think it is a very good looking car, not sure why the writer assumes it is a forgone conclusion that it...
  • probert: just a hint – yes
  • Lou_BC: @SoCalMikester – Yup. My dad would use a rag soaked in diesel.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber