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

The stakes are getting higher in the dispute between the wireless industry and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), regarding the use of C-band spectrum for 5G.

On New Year’s Eve Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Steve 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.

“Commercial C-band service would begin as planned in January with certain exceptions around priority airports,” states the letter. “The FAA and the aviation industry will identify priority airports where a buffer zone would permit aviation operations to continue safely while the FAA completes its assessments of the interference potential around those airports. Our goal would then be to identify mitigations for all priority airports that will enable the majority of large commercial aircraft to operate safely in all conditions.”

Apparently, the FAA needs the additional two weeks to “identify the priority airports.” The FAA also needs the extra time to approve certain high-performing radio altimeters to operate at those airports.

“This will allow for 5G C-band to deploy around these priority airports on a rolling basis, such that C-Band planned locations will be activated by the end of March 2022, barring unforeseen technical challenges or new safety concerns,” said the letter.

The FAA said that it “will make every effort to complete this work as expeditiously as possible,” which must infuriate the wireless carriers, who purchased this spectrum months ago under the impression that it was clear for usage.

The transportation and aviation heads said, “Failure to reach a solution by January 5 will force the U.S. aviation sector to take steps to protect the safety of the traveling public, particularly during periods of low visibility or inclement weather. These steps will result in widespread and unacceptable disruption as airplanes divert to other cities or flights are canceled, causing ripple effects throughout the U.S. air transportation system.”

RELATED: Airlines file emergency petition to stop 5G C-band deployment near airports

The request from Buttigieg and Dickson comes two days after the trade group Airlines for America (A4A) asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to stop the wireless industry from turning on C-band spectrum for commercial deployment on January 5.