The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved forward with a spectrum auction that will help advance 5G deployment in the U.S. despite some federal agency heads’ attempts to delay the process.
The smooth adoption of 5G is critical to ensure America’s leadership in the new technology. The FCC is auctioning off spectrum from high, mid and low bands in the coming years as part of its Facilitate America’s Superiority in 5G Technology (FAST) plan.
The wireless auction of 24 GHz high-band spectrum took place Thursday with 38 bidders that include such heavy-hitters as AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. It’s the second such auction of what is known as millimeter wave – the FCC auctioned 28 GHz spectrum earlier this year as part of its plan to free up spectrum to help American be the leader in fifth generation wireless advancement. The much-anticipated 5G is expected to have speeds topping out above 1 gigabit per second with lower latency and should help wireless become a viable solution to alleviating the rural broadband gap (without taxpayer money) in addition to powering the technologies of tomorrow including healthcare and transportation.
The 5G future is closer than many may know. AT&T had applied to test 24GHz equipment in Austin, Texas, in advance of Thursday’s auction as the wireless industry looks to jump quickly on 5G development.
The leadership of the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee wrote to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Wednesday to express their opinion that the auction should be delayed so concerns about potential interference with weather-monitoring technology can be studied.
“Our concern is not with 5G technology," wrote Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, and Frank Lucas, R-Okla. "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.”
But the FCC fired back at the leaders of those agencies, saying the rules for Thursday’s auction went through the standard interagency coordination process and would provide necessary protection for other spectrum bands. FCC spokesman Brian Hart said the rules 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,” he said. “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.”
Pai sent a strongly worded letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on March 8 saying that federal partners that include NASA and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration have refused to recognize that the federal government has a “fully coordinated position on this critical spectrum issue,” given that the matter was settled by the State Department in 2017, allowing the auctions to move forward.
He was responding to a Feb. 28 letter from Bridenstine and Ross that asked the FCC to delay the auction until there was a “unified U.S. government position.”
Pai said those and other agencies have misleadingly portrayed the government’s position on spectrum as still under consideration. That includes “actively lobbying foreign delegations and key industry players during the recent [World Radiocommunication Conference Preparatory Meeting (CPM)] to undercut this position.”
Pai called those actions unacceptable.
“They are unacceptable given the fact that federal partners had over two years to produce verifiable technical studies suggesting the need for an alternative protection limit – and did not. They are unacceptable considering that the actions continued even after the U.S. Government made its position public at the CPM. And they are unacceptable given that, if successful, they would directly and substantially undermine American leadership on 5G – again, a major priority of the President and (one would expect) the entire Administration,” Pai wrote.
Politico noted in a story on Thursday that the issue of 5G harmony is important because the U.S. must outline its vision for spectrum at the World Radiocommunication Conference in Egypt this fall. The outlet reported that some Trump administration officials fear the lack of a coherent strategy could “set back American efforts to shape the rules of the road for the next-generation networks.”