A federal court has denied a request by NRECA and others to reverse a Federal Communications Commission rule that opens the radio spectrum used for critical utility communications to unlicensed wireless devices that can cause dangerous interference.

In the Dec. 28 decision in AT&T Services v. Federal Communications Commission, the court said it was deferring to the FCC’s expertise in regulating activity within the 6-gigahertz spectrum band, which until recently had been largely reserved for licensed utility and public safety communications.

“Electric co-ops rely on the 6 GHz band to operate their SCADA [supervisory control and data acquisition] systems, deploy AMI [advanced metering infrastructure], provide broadband and communicate with teams in the field,” said Brian O’Hara, NRECA senior regulatory director.

“The court’s decision jeopardizes the functionality and reliability of those vital co-op operations.”

NRECA petitioned the FCC to develop new rules governing the opening of the 6 GHz band, to prevent interference from low-power indoor devices like cellphones, laptops and Wi-Fi routers. The FCC was also asked to close the 6 GHz band to unlicensed users until new rules and protections are in place.

NRECA filed the petitions Dec. 7 with a broad coalition, including the Utilities Technology Council, Edison Electric Institute and American Public Power Association.

The coalition requested that the FCC create a process for licensed users to recover the cost of identifying, mitigating and resolving interference and conduct independent, real-world testing of interference by unlicensed devices.

The industry efforts stem from a decision by the FCC in April 2020 to open 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band for the “next generation of Wi-Fi.” The commission rejected calls for an automated frequency coordination (AFC) system to oversee all unlicensed devices on the spectrum. Instead, to mitigate interference, the FCC only required AFC, which is not fully tested, for full-power outdoor unlicensed devices and not low-power indoor ones.

“We hope the FCC will take up our petition for rulemaking, urging the agency to develop new rules governing the opening of the 6 GHz band to unlicensed low-power indoor devices,” O’Hara said.

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