Members of the House communications and technology subcommittee from both parties expressed concern today about disagreement between the FCC and several executive branch departments on spectrum issues, particularly out-of-band emission limits (OOBE) for the 24 gigahertz band.
Some lawmakers also raised issues regarding the C-Band Alliance’s proposal for repurposing 200 megahertz of 3.7-4.2 GHz band spectrum, including a 20-MHz guard band, for 5G terrestrial services. For example, they asked questions about the CBA’s offer to make a “significant voluntary contribution to the U.S. Treasury” if the FCC approves its auction plan.
“I’m very concerned that there has been a breakdown between the F-C-C, N-T-I-A and other federal stakeholders. Over the last year and a half, several federal agencies have expressed deep concerns about a number of F-C-C proceedings related to spectrum policy including the Department of Education, the Department of Transportation, the Defense Department, the Department of Commerce, and NOAA,” Rep. Mike Doyle (D., Pa.), the subcommittee’s chairman, said at a spectrum hearing today.
“It’s a strange day when Democrats agree with [Education] Secretary [Betsy] [DeVos] about education policy, but many of us are concerned that the FCC’s recent order regarding the Educational Broadband Service effectively stripped the educational purpose and benefit from the band.
“It’s also concerning that NOAA and the Department of Commerce continue to assert that the recently completed auction [of] the 24 gigahertz band could have serious impacts on NOAA’s ability to forecast hurricanes,” Mr. Doyle added. “It makes a great deal of sense to look at bands and to repurpose them as needed, but it’s very concerning when cabinet officials are publicly fighting with the FCC over spectrum policy. I’m deeply concerned that this process has broken down [and] that the American people are going to be the ones that suffer.”
Rep. Doyle also mentioned the FCC’s 3.7-4.2 GHz band proceeding.
“Through Congressional action, I believe that this band can provide consumers, incumbent users, satellite operators, wireless companies, and new entrants an incredible opportunity,” the congressman said. “Congresswoman [Doris] Matsui [D., Calif.] and I are working on a proposal to make a significant amount of mid-band spectrum available over the next 5 years, and in a way that helps accelerate the deployment of 5G. We also hope that a portion of the proceeds of this transaction can be used for the priorities that this Committee has focused on for so long, rural broadband deployment, Next Generation 911, and closing the digital divide.”
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.), chairman of the full Energy and Commerce Committee, echoed the concerns raised by Mr. Doyle.
“It seems that, as a nation, we are somehow unable to cobble together a coherent policy for managing our airwaves. Right now there is a leadership vacuum,” Mr. Pallone complained. “And I’m concerned that too few people in our government understand that our agencies’ spectrum needs must be coordinated, and the government must speak with one voice.”
“Today, the Trump FCC goes one way, the Commerce Department and NTIA go another. Then you have other departments throughout the federal government, like the Departments of Transportation, Education and Defense voicing their own opinions about how spectrum should be used. This lack of coordination affects a mind-numbing list of important bands of spectrum. In my opinion, the process has completely broken down,” Rep. Pallone added.
The congressman added that he looks forward to working with his congressional colleagues “to find a consensus approach to fill the void left by this Administration and resolve the pressing spectrum issues before us, including the disposition of the C-Band. How we resolve that band is incredibly important and troubling questions remain about the ongoing process at the FCC. It’s clear that Congress must legislate to resolves these concerns and provide the greatest benefit to consumers, with a transparent process that generates revenue for the Treasury.”
Rep. Greg Walden (R., Ore.), ranking member of the full committee, also expressed frustration at spectrum coordination difficulties in the federal government, calling the conflict “a bit troubling.” Later, Mr. Walden added, “This has to get cleaned up. It’s nonsense.”
At issue concerning the 24 GHz band are complaints by the Commerce Department, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that the OOBE limits adopted by the FCC for the 24 GHz band will not be adequate to protect passive NOAA weather forecasting operations in the 23 GHz band.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has been critical of the Commerce Department and others that argue that the FCC’s technical limits are not adequate. The dispute played a part in the abrupt resignation in May of David Redl as administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (TR Daily, May 9).
Mr. Doyle cited a technical report that NOAA and NASA have submitted describing concerns about interference to weather forecasting operations. He asked if the report has been made public.
Julie Knapp, chief of the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology, said it has not and it is up to those agencies to release it.
Mr. Doyle complained about the lack of “a cohesive position” ahead of the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19) in Egypt later this year.
Mr. Knapp said the FCC believes that its technical limits are adequate to protect against adjacent-band interference. “We believe both of these can live together. They’re in separate bands,” he said.
Derek Khlopin, senior policy adviser at NTIA, said that agencies are engaged in a “deliberative process” on a U.S. position for the 24 GHz band ahead of the WRC-19.
Mr. Doyle noted that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Sen. Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, in a letter that an interagency working group had reached a compromise.
“From the perspective of the FCC, we’ve not reached a compromise,” Mr. Knapp said. He said a consensus position would need to be reached before a meeting in Canada next month of CITEL [the Inter-American Telecommunications Commission].
Mr. Khlopin said he does not speak for Secretary Ross but that Mr. Ross had understood that a consensus had been reached. “That process is still underway,” he said.
Rep. Bill Johnson (R. Ohio) asked whether “standard interagency coordination” on the 24 GHz band technical limits had occurred before the FCC auctioned the spectrum. Mr. Knapp said it did. Mr. Knapp also said that other agencies did not object to the OOBE limits during that coordination.
He also said the FCC had “a number of concerns” about the NOAA/NASA study. He also said that more than 10 studies were submitted to the International Telecommunication Union about the 24 GHz band and each had a different proposed limit.
Mr. Khlopin stressed that NTIA believes 5G operations and weather forecasting operations “can coexist,” and he noted that the FCC, in its order adopting rules for the band, said it would evaluate further information that was presented. “This is a typical process. It just unfortunately got a lot more publicity this time,” he added.
Mr. Walden complained that he had been unable to get a copy of the NOAA/NASA study. “I want a copy of this study,” he said, adding that he understood that members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee had copies.
Regarding other key FCC spectrum proceedings, Mr. Knapp said the FCC is “optimistic that we’re going to be able to get to a positive outcome” that enables sharing of the 6 GHz band between unlicensed devices and incumbent point-to-point microwave operations, which include public safety and utility incumbents.
Rep. John Shimkus (R., Ill.) asked for an update on when the FCC will consider a notice of proposed rulemaking in its 5.9 GHz band proceeding, as promised by Mr. Pai (TR Daily, May 14). “I expect that there will be an item presented to the Commission very soon,” Mr. Knapp said.
Mr. Knapp noted that the FCC has completed the first of three phases of testing on compatibility between dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) and Wi-Fi technologies and said that the Department of Transportation is now conducting “basic field tests” under Phase II.
Reps. Debbie Dingell (D., Mich.) and Bill Flores (R., Texas) also queried Mr. Knapp on the 5.9 GHz band, stressing the need to ensure that the auto industry has spectrum for connected vehicles technologies.
Rep. Johnson said he was disappointed that the FCC last week did not adopt an EBS priority filing window for rural educational entities (TR Daily, July 11). Mr. Knapp noted that the FCC decided that auctioning unused spectrum after a tribal filing window was a better way to spur investment.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) plugged his legislation (HR 451) to rescind the statutory requirement that the FCC auction public safety spectrum in the T-band by 2021 and relocate incumbents by 2023. Rep. Marc Veasey (D., Texas) also raised the issue.
Congress should consider legislation that would rescind the statutory mandate, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released last month (TR Daily, June 21). The report also said that the FCC is concerned about the impact to public safety of relocating systems.
Mr. Knapp told Rep. Susan Brooks (R., Ind.) that “hopefully within a couple months” operators of spectrum access systems (SASs) in the 3.5 GHz band would be able to begin initial deployments. He noted that the FCC has not yet received SAS lab tests reports from NTIA’s Institute for Telecommunication Sciences.
During questioning of a second panel of witnesses at today’s hearing, the future of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band was the main topic, particularly the voluntary contribution offered by the CBA if the FCC approves its auction plan.
Mr. Doyle, who has criticized the CBA’s plan, asked about the legality of the alliance making a voluntary contribution to the Treasury.
“We are confident it is legal … for private parties to make contributions to the Treasury,” replied Peter Pitsch, the CBA’s executive vice president-government affairs. Also legal would be the FCC conditioning approval of its plan on the payment of such a contribution, he said.
In response to a question about whether such payments have occurred in the past, Mr. Pitsch noted that T-Mobile US, Inc., and Sprint Corp. have volunteered to make payments if they miss 5G deployment milestones as part of their proposed merger (TR Daily, May 20). He also noted that railroads were directed as part of a settlement with the FCC to make a payment to a tribal authority.
Rep. Doyle asked whether the CBA’s plan would garner enough spectrum for 5G services.
Tim Donovan, senior vice president-legislative affairs for the Competitive Carriers Association, said it wouldn’t. He noted that a plan advanced by CCA, ACA, and Charter Communications, Inc., proposed to free up at least 370 MHz of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band (TR Daily, July 2).
Rep. Jerry McNerney (D., Calif.) asked Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, to weigh in on the legality of a contribution to the Treasury.
“It’s certainly beyond the Commission’s authority to require” such a payment, Mr. Calabrese replied. He also said it would set “just a terrible precedent” to pay incumbents to clear spectrum.
Messrs. Calabrese and Donovan advocated for an auction held by the FCC, which they said would be more transparent than a private sale.
Mr. Pitsch argued that the FCC would have to approve any CBA auction, and he said the CBA’s plan was the fastest way to repurpose portions of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for 5G services.
Rep. Doris Matsui (D., Calif.) asked witnesses for their opinion of her draft WIN 5G Act, which calls for what she says is “a compromise, consensus-based approach” for repurposing at least a portion of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band for terrestrial 5G services (TR Daily, June 26).
She noted that under the bill, C-band satellite operators would serve as a transition facilitator to craft a transition plan for C-band spectrum and address any hold-out problem.
“It would certainly address some of the litigation risk” while providing incentive payments to free up additional portions of the band, Mr. Donovan said of the draft bill.
Meanwhile, in a joint statement to the subcommittee today, the American Public Power Association, the American Water Works Association, the Edison Electric Institute, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and the Utilities Technology Council stressed the importance of the 6 GHz band to their operations.
“With the FCC considering expanding access to the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use, we have significant concerns that this proposal will threaten the integrity of our mission-critical communications networks,” the groups said. “While our collective members fully understand and appreciate the need to make more efficient use of spectrum, members of this Subcommittee should ensure the FCC weighs the advantages of expanding access to the 6 GHz band with the potential negative impact this could have on critical infrastructure networks – that in turn support telecommunications, which cannot function without electricity. Importantly, the mechanism proposed by the FCC for protecting licensed users in the band from harmful interference – called the Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) system – remains untested and unproven. If the FCC is intent on opening up the 6 GHz band despite the serious objections raised by the electric and water sector, then this Subcommittee should at least urge the FCC to ensure, before it opens up the band, that the AFC system works as intended. In fact, proponents of opening the band indicated at a recent FERC technical conference that they would not support opening the band if incumbents like the CII [critical infrastructure industry] we represent would be negatively impacted. It is essential, then, that testing of the AFC system occur should the FCC proceed.” —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
MainStory: Congress FCC FederalNews SpectrumAllocation Satellites PublicSafety
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