Federal Agencies Must Stop Interfering with 5G Deployment | Citizens Against Government Waste

Federal Agencies Must Stop Interfering with 5G Deployment

The WasteWatcher

If the United States is going to be the global leader in 5G, like it has been for all prior telecommunications technologies, the federal government must move quickly and effectively to make as much spectrum available as possible.  Thanks to strong bipartisan support over the past 10 years at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), there is a large amount of spectrum for 5G both available and in the pipeline. 

But federal agencies have been fighting and continue to object to the FCC’s decisions to open up several bands of spectrum, creating self-inflicted wounds in the battle for global 5G dominance.  As discussed in an April 17, 2020 blog post, a December 19, 2019 letter to then-FCC Chairman Ajit Pai from Citizens Against Government Waste, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, FreedomWorks, and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, joined by Ros Layton of the American Enterprise Institute and Christopher Koopman of the Center for Growth and Opportunity, “cited the ‘dysfunction of the bureaucracy’ and delays by ‘DoT, DoD, DoE, DoC, NASA, NOAA –in proceeding after proceeding –24 GHz, 5.9 GHz, 2.5 GHz, 3.1-3.55 GHz, L-band, and 6 GHz – … to block the introduction of more spectrum into the market which threatens to stifle innovation and hurt the economy.’ … While some of the foregoing agencies are using their spectrum allocation for important uses, much of it has been underutilized or unused. Yet, they dislike relinquishing control over this resource once they get it into their hands.  The 5.9 GHz spectrum allocation is a good example, as wresting control of most of that spectrum from the Department of Transportation was no mean feat.”  

The latest agency to join this destructive battle to stop 5G deployment is the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  It is stepping in well after the FCC’s decision to deploy the 3.7-3.98 GHz band (known more commonly in the U.S. as the c-band spectrum range) by claiming it could hinder altimeter avionics in small airplanes and cause planes to fall from the sky.  On November 2, 2021, the FAA issued a Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin (SAIB) (AIR-21-18), warning “aircraft manufacturers, radio altimeter manufacturers, operators, and pilots of the planned deployment of wireless broadband networks in the 3700-3880 MHz bands, which is scheduled to begin on December 5, 2021 in the 3700-3800 MHz bands.  This SAIB recommends that radio altimeter manufacturers, aircraft manufacturers, and operators voluntarily provide to federal authorities specific information related to altimeter design and functionality, specifics on deployment and usage of radio altimeters in aircraft, and that they test and assess their equipment in conjunction with federal authorities.”

While this request by the FAA may seem innocuous and commonsense that operators test their equipment, which should be done in any event on an ongoing basis, the intent of this SAIB is clear.  The agency is attempting to slow-walk the deployment of 5G networks. 

Citizens Against Government Waste was heavily engaged in the allocation of the c-band spectrum from the time the satellite industry first reached out to the FCC with their proposal to sell the spectrum for use by 5G technology.  The FCC opened a notice of inquiry on repurposing the 3.7-4.2 GHz band from its current use by the satellite industry to being used for 5G deployment.  Ultimately, the FCC ordered the use of the 3.7-3.98 GHz band for 5G use, and the remaining 3.9-4.2 GHz band for continued use by satellite services.  Radio altimeters operate in the 4.2 to 4.4 GHz spectrum band, so there is approximately 420 MHz of spectrum between the upper portion of the commercial wireless services and the radio altimeter spectrum, which had been and continues to be used by satellite services and the FCC included in its order a guard band of 220 MHz of spectrum.  The FCC also noted in its report and order that they “expect the aviation industry to take account of the RF environment that is evolving below the 3980 MHz band edge and take appropriate action, if necessary, to ensure protection of such devices.”

According to Roger Entner of Recon Analytics, there are 40 countries worldwide already using the c-band for 5G deployment.  The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EUASA) and the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau, among others, have not issued any similar warnings, even though the same aircraft used in the U.S. is used overseas, and unlike the U.S., Japan has allowed c-band deployments using a 100 MHz guard band between the c-band and the band where altimeters operate.  In fact, Boeing, which unlike the FAA filed its comments in a timely manner during the c-band rulemaking process, agreed that the 100 MHz guard band was sufficient, and the FCC more than accommodated that request by making it 220 MHz.

The dramatic timing of the FAA’s objections just ahead of the holiday travel season is meant to draw attention to a problem that does not exist.  Ensuring that c-band spectrum was available for 5G technology was a long-drawn-out affair at the FCC that included an intense evaluation of any potential interference issues, congressional hearings, and a guard band of spectrum that was intended to avoid even the slightest hint of interference from occurring.  Yet, interagency infighting over spectrum has the FAA acting like the Grinch stealing the Christmas presents from under the tree. 

Companies that were awarded spectrum licenses in the extremely successful $80 billion spectrum auction are putting a temporary hold on their deployment plans until the issue is resolved.  AT&T and Verizon announced they have delayed deploying 5G networks in the c-band spectrum for 5G for 30 days in response to the aviation concerns expressed by the FAA.  The response from the aviation groups was to ask for a longer delay without an end date.  Both companies then not only agreed to refrain from any buildout for 30 days, but also to reduce the base station power output to avoid any potential interference problems with avionic equipment for a period of six months to allow the aviation industry and the FAA time to fully test their equipment before going to full power.  This should be more than enough time for the FAA to quickly determine if there are any interference issues before full power is instituted across the network.  And the agency has yet to explain why it thinks the U.S. is different than the 40 countries that have successfully and without delay deployed 5G technology in the c-band spectrum.

The c-band is crucial for the future of telecommunications, and further deployment delays, particularly from a government agency seeking to stall the process after the fact, could cause the U.S. to lose its global leadership to other countries.  As Digital Progress Institute President Joel Thayer noted in a November 22, 2021 Newsweek article, “China is no longer a sleeping giant in the 5G space, it is by all metrics the Thanos to our Avengers.  Given that our government sits on nearly 60 percent of the U.S.’ spectrum, we need interagency cooperation to take care of the real threat gaining on 5G – a totalitarian regime controlling the tool to the most important information machine that has ever existed.”    

It is far past time for federal agencies to work together on spectrum policy and do what is best for the American people.  The FAA had more than enough time to work with the FCC during the 3.7 GHz rulemaking proceeding to evaluate any potential interference of 5G networks with altimeters using an entirely different spectrum band.  And, while no one wants plans to fall from the sky, it is clear that in Europe and Japan the proof is in the pudding, and this is not happening.  Any further delay to deployment of 5G will cost additional funds, harm consumers who are waiting for next generation networks to be built, especially rural Americans, and reduce the U.S.’s global technological standing.