Federal agencies agree to better spectrum coordination after 5G-FAA debacle

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The recent clash between the aviation industry and wireless carriers over security concerns due to interference with 5G mobile signals has exposed what many critics see as a dysfunctional process for managing the nation’s spectrum resources. Now the two federal agencies responsible for managing US spectrum say they have a plan that he hopes will head off conflicts before they become major issues.

The Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Tuesday announced a new initiative to “fill the gaps” in their management of spectrum allocation. As part of this effort, the agencies will update a spectrum rights memorandum of understanding.

The improved coordination effort comes just weeks after a major dispute between the Federal Aviation Administration and the FCC led to flights being canceled by airlines due to concerns that the deployment of 5G by the Wireless operators using the so-called C-band spectrum will interfere with radio altimeters in airplanes used for low visibility landings. The FAA and the wireless industry have agreed on temporary solutions to the problem, but experts say the underlying issue could take years to resolve.


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The heads of the FAA and the Department of Transportation criticized the NTIA under the administration of former President Donald Trump for not providing a letter to the FCC before the C-band auction at the end of 2020. They assert their safety concerns about potential interference with 5G signals. and altimeters weren’t taken seriously The FAA eventually shunned the NTIA and took their concerns directly to the administration of President Joe Biden. When problems could not be resolved, the FAA issued warnings to airports, which led to AT&T and Verizon delay initial deployment of their C-band spectrum and led some airlines to halt flights.

As part of Tuesday’s announcement, the heads of the FCC and NTIA said they would increase direct communication between the agencies and hold “formal and regular meetings, beginning monthly, to conduct joint planning for the spectrum”. They also said they would more clearly define their roles in spectrum management, collaborate on spectrum allocation policy, and cooperatively develop a spectrum interference and compatibility analysis process.

“Now more than ever, we need a whole-of-government approach to spectrum policy,” FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement Tuesday. “Over the past few years we have seen the cost of not having one, and we need a continued effort to address this issue.”

The NTIA is an agency of the Department of Commerce that oversees the use of spectrum by federal agencies. It advises the President on spectrum issues. In contrast, the FCC is an independent regulator that manages the country’s commercial spectrum. Disputes between the two agencies often arise when the interests of their constituents, federal spectrum users, and commercial users collide.

One such example is the controversy over the FCC’s allocation of 5G spectrum to satellite company Ligado. The NTIA, Department of Transportation, and US Department of Defense objected to the FCC’s decision to allow Ligado to use the spectrum, saying 5G service would interfere with GPS service that operated using the spectrum. near.

Spectrum policy experts, like Public Knowledge’s Harold Feld, tweeted following the announcement that the fact that Rosenworcel and NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson agreed to work more closely to coordinate the spectrum is good news in spectrum policy. But he added that it will take more than these two agencies to make a real difference.

“None of this will work if congressional committees continue to encourage turf fights by holding one-sided hearings and introducing legislation aimed at undermining FCC rulings,” Feld said in a tweet. “Furthermore, because the agencies don’t have authority over each other, it will take some serious investment from the White House (at least initially) to make this work.”

Those coordination efforts are set to show up on Wednesday when Davidson is due to testify in his first oversight hearing as head of the NTIA before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In addition to talking about spectrum issues, lawmakers are expected to ask him about NTIA’s role in doling out billions of dollars in grants to states to expand broadband connectivity nationwide under the bill. $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that was signed into law in November.

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