The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved an order allowing states to lease out spectrum in the 4.9GHz band to wireless and utility companies, despite apprehension from public safety users about potential interference.

At issue is a 50MHz chunk of spectrum from 4940MHz to 4990MHz, which was reserved for public safety services in 2002.

FCC officials pitched the plan as a way to enable greater usage of the spectrum, noting only 3.5 per cent of eligible public safety licensees were actually using it, and those which do are mostly in big cities.

Public safety groups including the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) expressed concerns about interference from new users and the possibility of losing access to the spectrum.

But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai insisted the new rules would protect incumbents while allowing states to put the band to “its highest and best uses” through deals with broadband, utility and critical infrastructure providers.

He added some equipment already in use by wireless ISPs “may be easily tunable for 4.9GHz frequencies”, enabling rapid deployments in rural and underserved areas.

Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) VP of policy Louis Peraertz backed the FCC, stating leasing will “streamline use of the vastly underutilised band”.