A real-world study of the Federal Communications Commission’s plan to commercialize spectrum used by utilities, public safety, law enforcement and other critical services shows how their communications would suffer from high levels of interference, especially in rural areas.
Currently, the 6-gigahertz spectrum band is reserved for communications among the critical infrastructure industries (CII), including many NRECA member co-ops. The FCC is proposing to open the band to Wi-Fi providers and other non-licensed users to expand digital services to consumers.
Such a move would have actual consequences for mission-critical communications of utilities, public safety and emergency response, according to the study by Roberson & Associates LLC. The firm used the Houston metropolitan area to measure interference from both residential and outdoor Wi-Fi access points.
NRECA submitted the study to the FCC along with other industry groups, including the Edison Electric Institute, American Gas Association, American Public Power Association, American Water Works Association and Utilities Technology Council.
CII requires “interference-free access to the band on a continuous (24/7), low latency, uninterrupted basis to operate key facilities and equipment, and as their main source of communication during emergencies and disasters. Continued, unimpeded access is paramount,” the groups told the FCC.
The study showed that deployment of unlicensed devices as the FCC proposes “would cause all the point-to-point links in the Houston MSA to experience unacceptable levels of interference,” NRECA and the other associations said.
The FCC plan would result in “similar levels of interference” in other parts of the country, “including rural areas, where the microwave systems that use a lower performance antenna may actually increase the likelihood of interference from unlicensed operations,” the groups said.
The study recommended that the FCC “not move forward with its 6 GHz proposal until interference issues have been addressed and tested.”
The FCC proposed the rule in December 2018 and closed the public comment period on Feb. 15, 2019. Its decision on a final rule is pending.
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