Source: B.N. Frank

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is supposed to protect Americans by regulating the cable, telecommunications, and wireless industries.  Instead, it has been catering to these industries for decades (see 1, 2).  Over the years, numerous lawsuits have been filed against the agency for not protecting the public (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).  Of course, most – if not all – former and current appointees have also been employed by these industries when they weren’t working for the FCC.  D’oh!

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In regard to 5G, American opposition to deployment has been ongoing for years due to a variety of significant risks associated with it including aviation safety risks (see 1, 2).  It’s to be expected that former FCC chairs are dismissing these warnings.  Why start protecting the public now?

From Ars Technica:


Ajit Pai and Tom Wheeler agree: The FAA is behaving badly in battle against FCC

FAA fights use of spectrum that’s already deployed safely in dozens of countries.

Six former chairs of the Federal Communications Commission yesterday criticized the Federal Aviation Administration’s fight against a new 5G rollout on spectrum that the FCC has studied and deemed safe to use. Republicans Ajit Pai and Michael Powell joined with Democrats Tom Wheeler, Mignon Clyburn, Julius Genachowski, and Michael Copps in writing a letter describing their concerns about how the FAA has tried to undermine public confidence in the FCC’s decision-making process.

“The FAA should work with the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)… to assess and resolve the FAA’s concerns expeditiously, but this debate should not be fought publicly in a way that undermines consumer confidence in the process, nor should it require months of additional delays,” said the six former chairs’ letter, which was sent to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and NTIA acting Administrator Evelyn Remaley.

The “FAA position threatens to derail the reasoned conclusions reached by the FCC after years of technical analysis and study,” the former chairs also wrote.

AT&T and Verizon have already delayed their 5G launches on the new spectrum to assuage the FAA’s concerns, but the carriers plan to move ahead with the deployments next month.

No evidence of harm

Nearly 40 other countries are using C-band spectrum for 5G without any reports of interference to airplanes’ radio altimeters. As we wrote previously, the FCC in February 2020 approved mobile carriers’ use of C-Band spectrum from 3.7 to 3.98 GHz only after analyzing the aviation industry’s interference claims and finding no credible evidence of harm to altimeters, which use spectrum from 4.2 to 4.4 GHz.

To be safe, the FCC required carriers to follow power limits and created a 220 MHz guard band that will remain unused to protect altimeters from any possible interference from 5G transmissions. The FCC decision said the aviation industry’s research was unrealistic and that “well-designed equipment should not ordinarily receive any significant interference (let alone harmful interference) given these circumstances.”

Over a year after the aviation industry’s objections were dismissed by the FCC due to a lack of evidence, unnamed FAA officials tried to revive the debate by leaking their concerns to The Wall Street Journal. The FAA followed that up by issuing a November 2 bulletin that warned of “potential adverse effects on radio altimeters” even though the FAA bulletin acknowledged there have been no “proven reports of harmful interference” in the many countries where this spectrum is already used.

Former chairs say FCC acted on the evidence

The former FCC chairs’ letter said the agency’s 2020 decision on C-band spectrum “followed almost two years of a careful review of the public record,” during which other federal agencies were given the chance “to raise—and defend with reliable data—their concerns about interference from transitioning spectrum to new uses.”

“At the end of this process, an FCC decision is reached that reflects the input of all stakeholders and its technical experts on the effective transition of spectrum, consistent with its statutory charge to ensure that new systems do not cause harmful interference,” the former chairs wrote. “In turn, this decision-making approach provides wireless companies or other license holders with the confidence necessary to invest in the networks that will deliver the innovation that will ensure the US remains the technology leader of the world.”

That’s how it’s supposed to work, but the FAA actions threaten to derail the process, the letter concluded:

In this case, the FAA position threatens to derail the reasoned conclusions reached by the FCC after years of technical analysis and study. We encourage all stakeholders to work together toward a speedy resolution of the issues in this band, and to ensure these surprises do not become a recurring feature of American spectrum management in the future.

FAA cites “unsafe condition”

The FAA didn’t offer any direct response to the letter when contacted by Ars today. “The FAA’s safety concerns are spelled out in its Airworthiness Directives and Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin,” the FAA said in a statement, referring to the November 2 bulletin and new directives it issued last week. “We continue to work with federal agencies and the wireless companies so 5G C-band and aviation can safely co-exist.”

The FAA’s new Airworthiness Directive (AD) for transport and commuter airplanes said that “radio altimeters cannot be relied upon to perform their intended function if they experience interference from wireless broadband operations in the 3.7-3.98 GHz frequency band (5G C-Band). This AD requires revising the limitations section of the existing airplane/aircraft flight manual (AFM) to incorporate limitations prohibiting certain operations requiring radio altimeter data when in the presence of 5G C-Band interference as identified by Notices to Air Missions (NOTAMs).”

“The FAA is issuing this AD because the agency has determined the unsafe condition as described previously is likely to exist or develop in transport and commuter category airplanes with a radio altimeter as part of their type design,” the directive also said.

The FAA directives did allay some concerns that the FAA would take an even stronger stance against the 5G deployment. “New Street Policy Advisor Blair Levin said in a client note that analysts interpret last week’s FAA statements as the agency ‘stepping away from the threat of a broad shutdown of flights’ once AT&T and Verizon begin 5G operations,” Inside Towers reported today.

AT&T and Verizon adopted additional limits

AT&T and Verizon, which spent a combined $69 billion on the C-Band spectrum, agreed in early November to delay their deployment from December 5 until January 5. On November 24, AT&T and Verizon said they have voluntarily adopted additional power limits for six months.

AT&T and Verizon said in their November 24 letter to the FCC that the six-month period will give the FAA time to conduct more analysis. But the letter also pointed out that US airlines have been flying in to and out of various countries that already use the C-Band spectrum:

AT&T and Verizon are voluntarily adopting the precautionary measures described below despite the absence of any credible evidence that 5G deployments in the C-band will adversely affect radio altimeters in aircraft, as is confirmed by real-world experience around the globe. Tellingly, 5G systems have been deployed in the C-band in nearly 40 countries—with hundreds of thousands of operating base stations—without any reported incidents of harmful interference to radio altimeters and without the FAA expressing any concern regarding the safety of US registered aircraft operating in those locations.

Altimeters co-exist with other spectrum users

The carriers also said that radio altimeters already “co-exist near other high-power radio uses in the United States without reports of harmful interference to radio altimeters,” including two Navy radars that “operate just below the C-band at power levels that are 10,000 times greater than 5G base stations.”

Moreover, “ground and airborne aeronautical mobile telemetry systems operate immediately above radio altimeters at power levels comparable to 5G base stations and—for ground stations—with antennas pointed at aircraft,” the carriers said. “In fact, the aviation industry’s own Wireless Avionics Intra-Communications (WAIC) systems [are] designed to operate in the very same spectrum as radio altimeters.” Those aviation industry systems “would not pass the tests” that the aviation industry used in research that purported to show 5G would interfere with altimeters, the carriers told the FCC.