Indeed, there are many reasons to be skeptical of claims being made by NASA and Department of Commerce agencies NTIA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) about future interference with a single weather sensor.
First, the claims by the Commerce Department agencies didn't timely persuade other agencies that were part of the 5-year interagency spectrum planning process. According to a March 8 letter to the Commerce Secretary and NASA Administrator by Chairman Ajit Pai: "For over two years, the studies produced by NOAA were never endorsed by either the FCC or NTIA due to outstanding technical concerns" and "[t]he interagency consensus was that these studies failed to demonstrate a need to tighten the international limits." Agencies may validly seek to influence policy based on alleged signal interference during the process but shouldn't do so after, when the FCC has already auctioned the spectrum.
Second, Chairman Pai's March 8 letter pointed out:
"In order to settle the U.S. position, the FCC thus invoked the reconciliation process in light of our upcoming auction of the 24 GHz band—a critical band for the development of 5G services in the United States. Under that process, as you know, the Department of State becomes the arbiter—'breaks the tie' if you will—and determines the U.S. Government position. That is what happened here. The Department of State agreed with the FCC's approach, and that reconciled position is in fact documented."
As the U.S. strives for a leadership role in 5G, a confused spectrum policy could undermine U.S. leadership in international venues, such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The U.S. government's position ought to be communicated with one voice overseas.
Third, NASA and NOAA want
changes to out-of-band emission standards for the 24 GHz band. In other words, the dispute doesn't involve alleged interference according to existing standards. In fact, the rules established for the 24 GHz band are consistent with longstanding FCC standards limiting out-of-band emissions to protect passive services from high powered fixed services. Goalpost shifting is almost always suspect. And changes to the out-of-band emission standards would significantly reduce commercial service providers' ability to offer 5G, undermining the basis for their purchase of spectrum licenses.
Fourth, when NASA and NOAA initially raised their last-minute objections to the planned use of the 24 GHz band, those objections involved a weather sensor, known as "the Conical Microwave Imager Sounder" that was never deployed. Rather, those agencies expressed concerns that out-of-band emissions from 5G operations would harm a weather sensor that was
Fifth, although Commerce Department agencies later raised still more last-minute objections, they appear unsubstantiated. For instance, the newer objections involve one of the weather sensors on a single satellite that reportedly is acknowledged to be much less susceptible to interference than the cancelled weather sensor. And in an April 29
to the Chairwoman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Chairman Pai reiterated the Commission has never been presented with "a validated study" indicating operations consistent with existing out-of-band admissions standards would adversely affect existing use in the 24 GHz band, including weather forecasting.
Technical engineering expertise isn't necessary to spot the credibility problems with these last-minute claims by Commerce Department agencies. They have offered too little, too late to justify pulling the rug out from under the interagency spectrum process.
Commercial providers made good faith pledges of $2 billion in spectrum license bids, and the federal government owes a pledge of good faith in sticking to its rules. U.S. policymakers should stay the course on the 24 GHz band and help ensure American competitiveness in the global race to 5G.