FCC proposal could allow Chinese satellite interference, official warns

FILE – In this Sept. 16, 2018, file photo, American flags are displayed together with Chinese flags on top of a trishaw in Beijing. On Friday, July 24, 2020, (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to remove 45 of the 75 megahertz set aside for the U.S. government’s Safety Bands to unlicensed Wi-Fi which, according to a senior U.S. government official, “will compromise military readiness.”

“Losing the spectrum would make the U.S. less safe. The lack of a Safety Band for connected automated vehicles would compromise readiness from inside the U.S.,” the official, who requested anonymity, said.

While the military implications are something of extreme importance likely to come to mind quickly, there are other emergency conditions potentially in need of a Safety Band as well, such as those created by natural disasters or, heaven forbid, another terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland requiring the immediate transportation of first responders and critical lifesaving supplies.

“The Safety Band saves lives and helps keep America’s economy moving,” the official said.


Despite all of this, impairing U.S. transportation safety is not the only risk presented by dismantling the Safety Band and opening it up to what the official referred to as unlicensed Wi-Fi, including “a family of transmitters using different frequencies.” In short, massive amounts of new hardware, transmitters, software and alternative frequency use could flood the commercial market, complicating, interfering with or even disabling the Safety Band to some extent.

“Unlicensed Wi-Fi can compromise the speed of vehicles and put lives at risk,” the official explained.

Chinese Interference

Moreover, losing that much spectrum would require substantial modifications to the existing Safety Band and present potentially unintended security risks such as “opening the door to nefarious Chinese technology that was not inserted before,” the official explained.

Chinese interference is of particular concern for a number of specific reasons, not the least of which is the well-known reality that the communist country seeks to expand its global influence and control through investments in technology and regional economic interests. The Chinese telecom industry, the official explained, has very “close ties to the Chinese government,” an entity long-known to make various attempts at espionage using technological infiltration into foreign markets. This can take the form of computer chips built for U.S. technical systems or even weapons, interference or intrusions into global satellite markets, cyber-espionage through commercial IT systems or more simple efforts to dominate or take over technical standards allowing for the insertion of Chinese technologies.


“It is very difficult to make sure you only get secure things into the supply chain. Safety critical systems are going to be threatened by China and, quite possibly, Chinese economically-driven espionage. This could disrupt U.S. traffic and safety communication. Accidents could happen at an alarming rate, and the loss of the Safety Band would interfere with military radar test ranges.”

U.S.-based military radar also relies upon the Safety Band, a circumstance which further underscores the need for its preservation.

The FCC website says "The FCC grants licenses for Mid-Band Spectrum to Close Digital Divide and Enable Advanced Wireless Communications, Including 5G."


Warrior Maven has reached out to the FCC and the Chinese government with a request for comment on this story.

— Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest —