The FCC today rejected a request from the chairman and ranking member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee to postpone the agency’s 24 gigahertz band auction, which is scheduled to start tomorrow, and consult with federal agencies regarding their concerns about the potential for 24 GHz band interference to adjacent spectrum used for Earth observation sensors for weather and climate forecasting.
In a letter to Mr. Pai and the other Commissioners, Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D., Texas), the chairman of the committee, and Frank Lucas (R., Okla.), its ranking member, said that they “are deeply concerned” about the sale because of the use of the adjacent spectrum for critical purposes.
“Given the frequency spectrum being considered, and at the FCC's suggested noise limit, there is the potential for signal interference with Earth observation sensors for weather and climate forecasting which operate at adjacent spectrum frequencies. This could pose a serious risk to the American public, and as such, the FCC should engage with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the Department of Defense (DOD) to ensure interference issues are adequately addressed before continuing with the spectrum auction,” the lawmakers argued. “NOAA, NASA, and DOD have used satellite-borne microwave sensors to measure water vapor since the 1970s. Water vapor data is essential to the numerical weather prediction of rainfall and drought and helps increase the precision of such predictions. Water vapor measurements are also important in increasing accuracy of tracking hurricanes and monitoring sea ice, sea surface temperature, and soil moisture. Due to the specific properties of water vapor, it cannot be measured in frequency bands other than those currently allocated.”
The lawmakers cited a Feb. 28 letter from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to Mr. Pai.
“We are writing to ask for your help in ensuring that the U.S. Government presents to the international community a unified and fully coordinated position on a critical spectrum matter that was raised during the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19) Conference Preparatory Meeting,” the letter said. “The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposal for WRC-19 Agenda Item 1.13 recently has been publicly posted and is characterized as a U.S. Government position; however, there was no consensus in the interagency on this topic. The current FCC proposal would have a significant negative impact on the transmission of critical Earth science data – an American taxpayer investment spanning decades and billions of dollars with data supporting public safety, natural disaster relief, and weather forecasting. As the U.S. Government continues to investigate additional spectrum for future commercial broadband use, it is essential that protections are established for the critical operations of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Commerce, and our international partners in the 23 .6-24 GHz spectrum band.”
Messrs. Ross and Bridenstine told Mr. Pai that they would appreciate his “support in immediately removing the FCC paper on this topic from the public website until the interagency has coordinated a unified U.S. Government position. In parallel, NASA has agreed to host an interagency meeting at NASA Headquarters on March 11, 2019, to continue the long-standing interagency reconciliation process on this important topic. These proposed discussions, with the technical experts from NASA, Commerce, the Department of State, and the FCC, will enable the interagency process to converge on a unified U.S. Government position and contribute to our continued international leadership in spectrum management.”
In a letter last week responding to the letter from Messrs. Ross and Bridenstine, Mr. Pai denied their request and said the FCC planned to move ahead with the auction, a source confirmed. The FCC would not release Mr. Pai’s letter today. NASA provided TR Daily with the letter to Mr. Pai.
“The FCC's announced plan for the 5G spectrum operating at the band of 24.25 to 25.25 GHz which is subject to the March 14 auction is to set a noise threshold of -20 dBW, as reported in a policy position submitted to a coordination committee of the World Radiocommunications Conference 2019. There is great concern that the FCC's noise threshold will allow interference with weather and climate assets,” today’s letter from Reps. Johnson and Lucas added. “A joint NOAA/NASA study to ‘determine the necessary out-of-band emission limit to allow co-existence’ between International Mobile Telecommunications and passive sensors operating in the Earth exploration-satellite service, recommended a noise threshold of approximately -50 dBW to prevent interference with passive water vapor sensors.”
“We are concerned that the FCC appears to be dismissing the views and concerns of NASA, NOAA, the DOD, the National Academy of Sciences, and the international community in moving forward with the March 14 auction,” they added. “Our concern is not with 5G technology. We are strong supporters of advancing America's telecommunications infrastructure. However, advancements in telecommunications should not come at the expense of the safety and security of the American people. We are therefore asking for you to delay the auction of 5G spectrum until NOAA, NASA, and the DOD have been adequately consulted and their concerns have been addressed.”
Advocates for passive spectrum use, such as weather and climate operations, often file comments with the FCC expressing concern that the use of various bands could compromise the scientific use of spectrum by incumbents.
In response to today’s letter, FCC spokesman Brian Hart said, “Tomorrow’s 24 GHz auction is an important step towards securing American leadership in 5G. The FCC’s rules for this band went through the standard interagency coordination process, provide the necessary protection for other spectrum bands, and have been on the books since 2017. It is therefore perplexing to be asked to postpone this auction the day before it is going to start. While our nation’s international competitors would undoubtedly be pleased if we delayed this auction of greenfield spectrum at the last minute, the FCC will move forward as planned so that our nation can win the race to 5G and the American people can quickly enjoy the benefits of the next generation of wireless connectivity.”
The FCC announced the date for the 24 GHz band sale last month (TR Daily, Feb. 27). Thirty-eight applicants have qualified to bid, including major players such as AT&T, Inc., Verizon Communications, Inc., T-Mobile US, Inc., United States Cellular Corp., and Dish Network Corp.- Paul Kirby, [email protected]
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