AT&T, Verizon push back on request for C-band delay

The CEOs of Verizon and AT&T won’t allow the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to control the conversation regarding the deployment of C-band spectrum.

Today, AT&T CEO John Stankey and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg sent a letter to Department of Transportation chief Pete Buttigieg and FAA head Stephen Dickson, rebuffing the federal agencies’ request that the carriers delay their C-band deployments.

However, the carriers offered a counter proposal. They said that until July 5, 2022, they are willing to adopt the same C-band radio exclusion zones that are already in use in France. This will reduce C-band signal levels by at least 10 times on the runway and the last mile of takeoff and final approach.

The carriers note that the laws of physics are the same in the U.S. and France.

“As you know, U.S. aircraft currently fly in and out of France every day with thousands of U.S. passengers and with the full approval of the FAA,” stated their letter. “As a result, France provides a real-world example of an operating environment where 5G and aviation safety already co-exist.”

The new measures are above and beyond the voluntary power limitations the carriers committed to in November to put in place around airports.

RELATED: AT&T, Verizon agree to C-band power limitations for 6 months

11th hour C-band drama

For the past two months, the FAA has been sounding a last-minute alarm about the safety of air traffic if the wireless carriers deploy their C-band spectrum. The FAA claims use of the spectrum may interfere with airline altimeters.

On New Year’s Eve Buttigieg and Dickson sent a letter to the CEOs of AT&T and Verizon, asking that the wireless carriers delay their C-band launches for another two weeks beyond the agreed-upon January 5 deadline. And the federal leaders also wanted the carriers to deploy C-band on a rolling basis through March, with plenty of wiggle room for the aviation community to demand more time.

RELATED: Transportation secretary asks AT&T, Verizon to further delay C-band

With today’s letter, the heads of AT&T and Verizon indicate they don’t intend to play a game where the FAA calls all the shots.

“At its core, your proposed framework asks that we agree to transfer oversight of our companies’ multi-billion-dollar investment in 50 unnamed metropolitan areas, representing the lion’s share of the U.S. population, to the FAA for an undetermined number of months or years,” stated the letter.

They note that airline radio altimeters operate in a frequency band (4.2-4.4 GHz) that is separated by at least 400 megahertz from the C-band frequencies (3.7-3.8 MHz) that AT&T and Verizon will begin using in 2022.

The carriers also called out the FAA for its procrastination in addressing its own aviation safety concerns. They noted the aviation community has had nearly two years to upgrade older altimeters.

However, even if it is the FAA’s own fault that this issue has come to a head at the 11th hour, air safety is something that everyone takes seriously.

AT&T and Verizon said, “Our two companies are deeply committed to public safety and national security, and fortunately, the question of whether 5G operations can safely coexist with aviation has long been settled.”

But in their New Year’s Eve letter, Buttigieg and Dickson said that failure to reach a solution by January 5 would force the U.S. aviation sector to take steps to protect the safety of the traveling public. And those steps could result in widespread air travel disruption.