Government ‘Confusion’ and Unwarranted Intrusion Preventing Needed 5G in the New Year

By at 4 January, 2022, 11:10 am


By Karen Kerrigan –

There are many things the federal government needs to get right and can do more effectively to make 2022 better for the American public, our businesses and the economy. Creating roadblocks to improved and advanced digital services and tools is not on the list.

As I noted in a Small Business Insider blog post about the economy’s digital conversion, which advanced significantly as a result of COVID-19:

“The acceleration to all things digital in the U.S. is pushing new business creation and innovations, both of which will be muted and undermined without the transformative connectivity and tools provided by 5G. If there was ever a time that entrepreneurs, small businesses and consumers needed 5G, it is now.”

Along with our coalition partners, SBE Council has voiced concerns about the highly-publicized surprise move by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and aviation industry on their unfounded safety concerns related to deploying 5G in the C-band spectrum. As we noted in a joint trade association letter to Brian Deese, Director of the White House National Economic Council, “ad hoc wireless policymaking unsupported by facts challenges our nation’s ability to lead.”

The FAA has created a communications and inter-government agency mess, along with unnecessary and unfounded fears that are harmful for our economy, the investment environment, and a properly functioning regulatory system. Unfortunately, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has now decided to join the FAA in extending and intensifying this dysfunctional mess.

As I wrote in a recent Small Business Insider blog post:

“This issue – the safety of C-band’s co-existence – has been exhaustively studied for over a decade in the U.S., and internationally for 17 years! Nearly 40 countries use 5G in the C-band and there has been no impact on aviation safety.”

None-the-less, in response to the unsupported claims made by the FAA and aviation industry, the wireless industry took the high road and volunteered to delay 5G rollout using the C-band from an early-December launch date to early January, and will take additional precautionary action, including the adoption of C-Band radio exclusion zones that are used in France, which are the most cautious in the world. 

But now the DOT wants to delay rollout even further. And, according to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, it looks like an “indefinite halt in what appears to be every major market.” Commissioner Carr calls the DOT intrusion “a highly irregular request, and one that deviates from the clear, statutory process specified by Congress for regulating the provision of wireless service.”

Now remember, the issue of using the C-band to deploy 5G was intensely studied by the FCC (the lead, expert federal agency on spectrum matters), the process was transparent and inclusive (which included the aviation industry), and an auction for this spectrum ensued resulting in approximately $80 billion of private capital that was transferred to the federal government. Again, even though unwarranted claims are being made about safety, the wireless industry has volunteered to take precautionary action. With respect to moving forward and safety issues, a January 2, 2022 letter from the CEOs of AT&T and Verizon Communications Inc. to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson puts it succinctly: 

“As you know, U.S. aircraft currently fly in and out of France every day with thousands of U.S. passengers and with the full approval of the FAA. As a result, France provides a real-world example of an operating environment where 5G and aviation safety already co-exist. The laws of physics are the same in the United States and France. If U.S. airlines are permitted to operate flights every day in France, then the same operating conditions should allow them to do so in the United States, as we propose in the technical details attached to this letter.” 

So now, AT&T and Verizon have voluntarily agreed to hold off again – for “one additional two-week delay.” Let’s hope Secretary Buttigieg does not move the goal posts by pushing the boundaries of unnecessary asks that lead to additional, costly hurdles for deploying 5G!

It’s always frustrating to watch one industry use fear and the levers of government to influence an outcome that they believe will fall to their advantage. In this case, the aviation industry – because the FAA has done nothing up until the last hour to review the issue of radio altimeters, which by the way do not operate near or on C-band frequencies – appear to want something out of this mess.

In the meantime, America’s competitive and innovative advantage will be undermined and weakened as a result of additional delays and the unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape that is being created by the FAA and DOT.

This is not leadership. It’s a regulatory circus. For the sake of our standing in the global economy and the benefits that are being lost each and every day to consumers and small businesses, it’s time to put the safety misinformation to rest and move forward with this critical 5G rollout.

Karen Kerrigan is president & CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.   


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