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Prolonging The FAA-FCC Dispute Deprives Americans Of 5G In The C-Band – Forbes

The Executive Branch, not taking a more holistic approach to spectrum issues, has allowed parochial … [+] interests to win out over the interests of all Americans who need wireless technologies for health, safety, and other uses.
Disputes between federal agencies over radio spectrum are not new. With the pace of advancing technology and the scarcity of spectrum, the number of disputes and the stakes have increased. More largely, governance of federal spectrum has not changed in a century. Many members of Congress and Presidents have shrunk from the leadership and oversight required to resolve agency disputes. Meanwhile federal agencies have fortified their power to serve parochial industrial interests over the needs of the American people. 
Michael Marcus has witnessed this trend over decades. He served for a quarter century as the Associate Chief of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC)’s Office of Engineering and Technology and played a critical role in developing the policy for Wi-Fi. Today he is an adjunct professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern University and an independent expert on wireless technology and spectrum policy. We spoke about current events and improving spectrum policy.
What’s your view of the recent advisory by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that despite claiming no evidence of interference, tells pilots to be aware of 5G transmissions amid altimeter operations?
The FAA knew 5G was coming and should have been working on altimeter upgrades at least 2, if not more than 5, years ago. But the FAA, like several other agencies, feels that it has veto power over national spectrum issues to protect its regulated companies from unwanted burdens.
5G operators have proposed significant mitigation with reduced power transmission. In general, the physics of wireless transmissions are horizontal while aviation is vertical. This suggests that the design of devices and equipment can be improved in future for greater co-existence.
The fact the other countries use these frequencies and planes don’t crash is very suspicious. Also the fact that while US general aviation interests are very upset about this issue, the US airlines only started showing weak attention in the past week.
A letter from 6 earlier FCC Chairs saying “the FAA position threatens to derail the reasoned conclusions reached by the FCC after years of technical analysis and study.” What does this say to innovators and entrepreneurs who would like to try a new technology?
All new technology poses risks for its developers and early users. But highly regulated technology such as 5G and other innovative spectrum uses have strong aspect of “regulatory risk”: not only is there uncertainty about whether the regulatory decisions will be favorable, but the decisions are often nontransparent due to interagency feuding and the time frame of decision making is uncertain. Ultimately these transparency and timeliness issues will severely complicate the use of private capital in developing fields of innovative radio technology. Many of our international competitors are both cost sharing spectrum R&D efforts and integrating funding decisions with regulatory planning. While I prefer the US market-based approach over heavy industrial policy—after all, we now all use Wi-Fi, not the European alternative HiperLAN—US leadership will be damaged unless we can make improvements in both transparency and timeliness.
You observe that the spat between the FCC and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on 5G is a replay of the FAA’s war with the broadcasters.  
Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) are used worldwide by aviation users at 108.1 -112 MHz and have similar proximity in the US to another important use, FM broadcast at 88-108 MHz. The landing systems are standardized by both the FAA and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the counterpart to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). In 1993, FCC proposed requiring only ICAO-complaint receivers. Airliners and corporate jets are not affected by this issue as they are equipped to fly outside the US and have ICAO-complaint receivers. However, small aircraft are not required to be ILS-equipped and some have receivers which are more than 20 years old. To not be burdened with replacing receivers to facilitate the use of broadcast spectrums, they vociferously objected through their trade association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), and the FCC relented. The FAA supported the continued use of receivers that did not meet the ICAO performance level and thus exercised de facto veto power over siting and technical parameters of FM stations at the upper end of the band to protect outdated ILS receivers.
Developing receiver standards is technically complex. International standards were developed with the relevant parties, however US ambivalence to the standard limited the utilization of FM broadcast spectrum—all to protect an ever-decreasing number of small aircraft with obsolete receivers. The issue is classic economic externality. Aviation users who adopt the new receivers get no direct benefit. Rather the benefits flow to the broadcasters and their end users through more efficient better spectrum usage.
Instead of cooperating to resolve spectrum disputes—ILS/FM, GPS/Ligado, 24 GHz, and now 5G in the C-band— the FCC and the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) sometimes conflict. NTIA has not been able to uphold its statutory responsibilities specified in 47 USC 902, which is to lead federal spectrum efforts. Though NTIA is the de jure regulator of federal spectrum, in reality the de facto regulator of federal spectrum is the Interdepartmental Radio Advisory Committee (IRAC). The IRAC has essentially no statutory authority to regulate spectrum, only to advise NTIA as noted in § 904(b): “To the extent the Assistant Secretary deems it necessary to continue the Interdepartmental Radio Advisory Committee, such Committee shall serve as an advisory committee to the Assistant Secretary and the NTIA.” However IRAC, through its most powerful members, like FAA, generally calls the shots when spectrum disputes involve its members. The Executive Branch, not taking a more holistic approach to spectrum issues, has allowed parochial interests to win out over the interests of all Americans who need wireless technologies for communication, health, safety, and other uses.


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