24 GHz Spectrum Auction Wraps Amid Inter-Agency Controversy | Citizens Against Government Waste

24 GHz Spectrum Auction Wraps Amid Inter-Agency Controversy

The WasteWatcher

As private sector companies continue to build next generation (5G) wireless networks, a controversy over the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction of the 24 GHz frequency is brewing.  Spectrum Auction 102 was completed on May 29, 2019, auctioning approximately 2,900 licenses in the 24.25 and 25.25 GHz bands and generating more than $2 billion.  This auction opens a critical bandwidth of spectrum necessary to provide 5G connectivity in dense urban areas using millimeter wave high-band spectrum.

The FCC has moved deliberately on the 24 GHz spectrum auction, providing multiple opportunities for the public and federal agencies to provide comments throughout the process.  On October 17, 2014, the FCC adopted a Notice of Inquiry into the use of 24 GHz spectrum for next generation wireless communications.  On October 23, 2015, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to promote higher frequency spectrum for future wireless technology.  Outreach continued through 2016, and 2017.  During that time, none of the federal agencies expressing last-minute concern over the alleged impact of using the auctioned spectrum for 5G weighed into the FCC’s public docket. 

On February 28, 2019, officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wrote to the FCC asking that Auction 102 be delayed due to concerns about using this spectrum, and informed Congress that if the 24 GHz spectrum is used for 5G, the agency could lose 70 percent of its forecasting data.  Weather forecasting uses the band between 23.6 and 24 GHz, and NOAA claims radio interference from use of the 24 GHz band for 5G technologies could bleed down into the 23.6-24 GHz frequencies disrupting sensors used to detect water vapor, which emits a weak radio signal in the 23.8 GHz frequency. 

Given the abundant opportunities to bring any weather forecasting concerns to the FCC over the past five years, it is disingenuous for NOAA to run to Congress like Chicken Little and announce, “the sky is falling.”  If NOAA was truly concerned about its weather forecasting sensors, the agency would have made this evident during the past five years, rather than the past four months.