Communications for utilities to provide service and safety would be placed at risk if federal regulators open a critical spectrum band to Wi-Fi providers and other unlicensed users.

NRECA and the utility groups that represent hundreds of licensed spectrum users sent that message to the Federal Communications Commission in a May 15 letter. The FCC is proposing to allow unlicensed access to the 6 GHz band used by these critical-infrastructure industries to monitor and operate their networks.

“[W]e have significant concerns that this proposal will threaten the integrity of our mission-critical communications networks,” the utility trade groups said.

NRECA, joined by the American Public Power Association, the American Water Works Association, the Edison Electric Institute and the Utilities Technology Council, highlighted the importance of utility communications on this band and the need to protect its access.

“Often invisible or overlooked, these communications networks provide critical situational awareness, underpin safety functions, and enable crews to safely repair and restore services after storms,” they said.

“Licensed spectrum offers our members the reliability and protection from interference that these networks require.”

The FCC said opening the band to unlicensed use “will allow a valuable spectrum resource to be more intensively used to benefit consumers.” Unlicensed devices for Wi-Fi and low-cost connectivity “in countless products used by American consumers” will not interfere with licensed use of the band under the proposal, the commission said.

The utility groups noted that mitigation measures in the FCC proposal are untested and unproven. Even minor interference can have significant consequences for service and safety.

For electric utilities, “these networks are essential for our members to meet and exceed the stringent electric reliability requirements enforced by the federal government.”

The industry groups recommended ways the FCC could protect critical-infrastructure systems prior to expanding access to the 6 GHz band.

“The need to make more efficient use of our nation’s spectrum resources is critical,” they said, “but cannot be rushed at the expense of vital energy and water services that are essential to our economy and public health.”