A Look at Controversy Over the Completed 24 GHz Auction

The Federal Communications Commission concluded the auction of the 24 GHz band on May 28, marking the end of the nation’s first set of high-band airwaves auctions to license spectrum for the creation of 5G networks.

Unfortunately, some agencies are trying to scare lawmakers into believing the licensed use of these airwaves will compromise our current ability to predict hurricane trajectories with any accuracy, delaying this greatly needed spectrum from entering the market as has been intended for over two years.

The auction was hugely successful, bringing in over $2 billion to the treasury for taxpayers, and releasing more licensed spectrum into the market for the advancement of 5G. Winning the race to 5G will introduce a new generation of more accurate, more precise technology that will improve the quality of today’s weather forecasts.

Even though the FCC’s extensive tests have shown that operation in the 24 GHz band could be done safely, without affecting weather prediction, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Association, and the American Meteorological Society continue to claim that licensing of the 24 GHz band could interfere with existing weather forecasting.

Most recently, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) wrote to the FCC asking that the wireless companies with winning bids during the auction not be issued their licenses “until the FCC approves the passive band protection limits that the NASA and the NOAA determine are necessary,” disputing the FCC’s own conclusions that these substantial protections are excessive.

In the two-year period since the FCC began developing the service rules for auctioning licenses in the 24 GHz band, neither the NOAA nor NASA raised any concerns about potential interference with passive weather sensors. It was not until weeks before the auction was scheduled to begin on March 14 that agencies began to speak out against it, demanding additional protections against potential interference.

These claims contradict years of FCC research into the use of the 24 GHz band and the way the FCC currently deals with interference issues, which have so far ensured that the U.S. remains the leader in spectrum policy and the race to 5G without compromising any vital government technologies.

In a Feb. 28 letter obtained by the Washington Post, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine asked Chairman Ajit Pai to reconsider the FCC’s proposal for the 24 GHz band and “continue the long-standing interagency reconciliation process on this important topic” by attending a March 11 meeting at NASA.

Chairman Pai rejected their request, citing “the absence of any technical basis for an objection over the past two years to the FCC’s well-established protection limits…”

The House Science Committee then attempted to postpone the bidding the day before it began with their own letter to Chairman Pai, asking him to “ensure interference issues are adequately addressed before continuing with the spectrum auction.”

In his response to Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and Ranking Member Frank Lucas, Chairman Pai wrote that “we have not been presented with any evidence of harmful interference from these existing services nor a validated study suggesting that operations in accordance with these rules would adversely affect use of the 23.6-24 GHz allocation, including for weather forecasting.”

Dissenters from the recently concluded auction are basing their claims on potential interference with little evidence to back their claims. As Joel Thayer of ACT pointed out,“ If this is truly a technical problem, then these agencies can solve it with technical solutions instead of performing political theater to advance policy objectives that stunt the development of this vital resource.”

With the conclusion of the auctions for licenses in the 24 and 28 GHz bands, the FCC has made more than 1,550 megahertz of spectrum available for commercial use. Later this year, the FCC will conduct the largest spectrum auction in our nation’s history, licensing 3,400 megahertz of spectrum in the upper 37, 39, and 47 GHz bands. These auctions, and the huge amounts of licensed spectrum they provide to American companies, help America secure its place as the international leader in the race to 5G.

Significant interference with weather forecasting technology has not been shown to be a real factor. The wireless companies who have paid for their licenses must be allowed to use them to operate in the 24 GHz band. 5G networks in the United States will drive technological innovation in all industries and drastically increase the amount and quality of data we can collect on weather and the environment.

Author: Katie Ryerson

Photo credit: Jussi Ollila