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U.S. senators urge telecom agency to OK use of connected vehicle spectrum

WASHINGTON, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Two U.S. senators on Monday urged the Federal Communications Commission to move quickly to grant some automakers, universities and others the ability to use some spectrum to deploy connected vehicle technology aimed at preventing crashes.

The 5.9 GHz spectrum block was reserved in 1999 for automakers to develop technology to allow vehicles to talk to each other to avoid crashes but has so far gone largely unused.

Senators Gary Peters and Cynthia Lummis called on the FCC to approve waiver requests to enable deployment of Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything (C-V2X) technology in the 5.9 GHz spectrum band.

"C-V2X technology is poised to save lives, (and) will pave the way for the future of automobile and transportation infrastructure," they wrote.

The FCC said in November 2020 it intended to offer waivers. It has received 18 waiver requests covering 31 entities but none have yet been granted, the senators added.

The senators noted 42,915 people died in traffic crashes in 2021, the deadliest year on American highways since 2005.

"Swift action on these waivers is essential given C-V2X technology’s potential to reverse rising roadway fatalities," the senators wrote.

The FCC did not immediately comment.

Entities seeking waivers include Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) AG's Audi, Ford Motor (F.N) and Jaguar Land Rover, Utah Transportation Department and Virginia Transportation Department, Harman International, Panasonic Corp (6752.T), New York City Department of Transportation and University of Michigan.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing nearly all major automakers, said the technology will help "address a growing traffic safety crisis in the U.S."

The FCC voted in 2020 to shift 30 megahertz of the 75 MHz reserved for Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) to C-V2X, while moving the other 45 MHz to Wi-Fi use.

Automakers opposed the split on safety grounds, while major cable, telecom and content companies say the spectrum is essential to support growing Wi-Fi use.

Government studies say the technology, if widely adopted among U.S. vehicles, could prevent at least 600,000 crashes annually.

In August, National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy urged the FCC to grant waivers.

"Connected vehicle technology would significantly reduce roadway fatalities, but it must be deployed as soon as possible," Homendy said.