C-band restrictions threaten 5G access for homes near airports: PK

The public interest group Public Knowledge (PK) is telling the FCC to reject calls by the aviation community for rule changes related to C-band deployments, citing the need for communities around airports to get adequate internet services and access to 5G.

Public Knowledge SVP Harold Feld disclosed in an ex parte filing that he spoke with Umair Javed, chief counsel to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, about the status of the C-band last Tuesday.  

Feld’s request is related to activities on the part of airline industry officials. In early October, representatives of the aviation industry asked the FCC to consider more permanent changes on the part of C-band licensees – namely, AT&T and Verizon – ahead of the next round of 5G C-band deployments in July and December of next year.

Last year around the holidays, the aviation industry successfully lobbied for C-band deployment delays because, they insisted, the signals would threaten old radio altimeters, which are particularly crucial during landing and take-off in bad weather. Verizon and AT&T were the two biggest winners in the FCC’s 2021 C-band auction and agreed to modifications.

Earlier this month, reports surfaced that Acting Administrator Bill Nolen of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was seeking mandates that would apply to 19 other smaller telecom companies and spectrum holders, thus expanding restrictions to more operators.

In his conversation with Javed, Feld noted that the “Air Coalition” is deliberately vague in its recent filings as to whether it seeks to make the existing voluntary interference mitigation agreed to by Verizon and AT&T permanent for all carriers, or merely wishes to impose these measures as mandatory on all C-band licensees.

“There is, of course, no support in the record for any kind of permanent change to the rules,” Feld wrote in the ex parte filing, explaining that the commission can’t alter the terms of the licenses in the manner requested by the Air Coalition without a proceeding under Section 316.

He stressed that it’s not simply a “technical matter,” or merely an inconvenience on the part of the licensees.

“As a consequence of systemic discrimination and historic patterns of red-lining, many of the neighborhoods closest to airports (and therefore within the ‘buffer zones’ around the airports subject to the mitigation measures) are low income and/or majority non-white communities,” he stated. “For many such households, mobile broadband service is the primary means of internet access.”

Delaying or permanently preventing deployment of significant capacity needed for mobile 5G services has a disproportionate impact on these communities, further aggravating inequality and exclusion, Feld said.

Further, he told the commission that any decision to extend the mitigation measures must consider the impact on low-income communities and communities of color and balance these impacts against the potential risk.

“In light of the evidence in the record, specifically that the capability to mitigate any potential risk lies completely in the hands of those using altimeters that listen out of band, the commission should reject the request of the Air Coalition to impose either a permanent rule change, or a temporary rule change of indefinite length,” he said.

A couple weeks ago, a group of airline industry representatives sent a letter to the White House asking for more time to retrofit radio altimeters to ensure the safety of flights and suggested they wanted to resolve issues before passengers and cargo shippers bear the brunt of any operational disruption.