By Mike Montgomery
The United States is in a global competition to lead on high-speed mobile networks and the connected future that will be the key to economic growth, social progress, and opportunity going forward. Rivals including China and most of Western Europe are racing to build and deploy infrastructure needed to power next generation applications like remote medicine, immersive distance learning, autonomous freight traffic, and the internet of things. These technologies are vital to closing the digital divide and providing affordable high-speed connectivity to communities that current tech has left behind.
Yet the FCC’s plan to bolster and accelerate America’s 5G deployment with new “C Band” spectrum has recently run into a bizarre roadblock – an effort by major airlines and allies at the FCC to reopen old debates that most observers thought were settled about the interaction between this C Band spectrum and aircraft operations.
These questions were raised years ago and the FCC studied them carefully. Ultimately, it resolved them by establishing a large “buffer zone” of unused spectrum between the 5G bandwidth and the frequencies used by aircraft. That approach is consistent with years of experience around the world in nearly 40 countries that already use this same spectrum for 5G communications without any harm to aviation activities whatsoever. That lengthy track record of safe global operations undoubtedly explains why even the FAA’s own advisory bulletin acknowledges “[t]here have not yet been proven reports of harmful interference” to date.
The FAA’s eleventh hour and fifty ninth minute decision to seek to relitigate this question – called the “height of irresponsibility” by a leading progressive telecom attorney and a “serious dysfunction” by the Director of the left-leaning New America Foundation’s Wireless future Project – has already forced a one month delay in the country’s 5G deployment effort. This cuts off new bandwidth and connectivity for consumers around the nation that are anxiously awaiting affordable advanced communications. And it sets back vital efforts to close the digital divide and connect underserved communities.
While a month isn’t long, when you aren’t moving forward you’re falling behind. If America is going to continue leading the global sprint for 5G dominance, the FCC must pick up the pace to prevent any further delays unnecessary delays.
Fortunately, the FCC has deep experience evaluating and resolving these spectrum issues. Every time spectrum is dedicated to new uses, incumbents and neighboring technologies come forward seeking delay, often trying to extract concessions or gain leverage in other proceedings. Here, the FAA’s last-minute intervention may well have been prompted by its airline constituents hoping to use this issue to win government concessions or subsidies for their own equipment upgrades or activities.
But the FCC is skilled at finding the signal within the noise. Given how thoroughly they have already reviewed the record and assessed the airline claims on this issue, it seems almost certain it can quickly evaluate any new information and make yet another – this time a truly final determination so that the nation can get back in the game and moving forward in the race to deploy advanced networks to power the innovations of today and tomorrow.