As FAA resists FCC's 5G mandate, a surprising alliance forms

The Federal Aviation Administration's continued opposition to 5G services launching on the C-band proves that Republicans and Democrats can agree on something,
Written by Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer

A new chapter has opened in the conflict between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) -- a conflict concerning C-band spectrum use for commercial 5G services across the US. The FAA claims 5G devices operating within C-band frequencies can cause interference with some aircraft altimeters used in automated flight and landing systems. The FCC's own research indicates those fears are unfounded. 

The FAA's objection already resulted in a decision by both Verizon Wireless and AT&T to delay their respective C-band 5G rollouts until at least January 5, as The Wall Street Journal reported. That effect on the FCC's mandate to help 5G services proliferate across the US was enough to bring four former FCC Chairs and two former Commissioners together, forming an unlikely alliance with the goal of refuting the FAA's claims. 

In an open letter sent to current FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel and obtained by Bloomberg, the six former officials urge the FCC to prevent the FAA's concerns from delaying 5G rollouts. The message was signed by former FCC Chairs Ajit Pai, Tom Wheeler, Julius Genachowski, and Michael Powell, as well as former FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps. 

Not only does this group represent a mix of Democrat and Republican FCC officials, but it includes both the man responsible for enshrining net neutrality law into US legislation, Wheeler, and the man responsible for dismantling that law, Pai.

In the missive, the former FCC members warn that the FAA's "position threatens to derail the reasoned conclusions reached by the FCC after years of technical analysis and study." The telecom regulator determined in 2020 that adequate protections were in place to prevent 5G devices operating on the C-band from interfering with the aforementioned systems. 

The FAA believes further testing is required. 

All involved parties, however, are willing to work together. The FAA told Bloomberg it will "continue to work with federal agencies and the wireless companies," while the letter's authors expressed a desire to see current FCC leadership ally with FAA officials to come to a speedy resolution. 

As 5G services continue to grow in the US, additional airspace will be needed to support the explosion of devices operating on 5G networks. If the C-band spectrum is taken out of that equation, it could delay some rollouts for months, if not years. 

These delays would counter the FCC's efforts to make the US a global 5G leader, threatening the significant investments several telecom companies have already made in developing solutions for C-band deployments. 

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