By Will Yepez, National Taxpayers Union
The U.S. has made tremendous progress in positioning itself as the global leader in 5G. This next generation technology promises to be faster and more reliable and will unlock enormous benefits for taxpayers and consumers. These benefits have attracted the attention of other countries, most notably China. The U.S. should continue to lead in the 5G race, but it needs a comprehensive plan that encourages private sector investment and avoids unnecessary delays on the part of the government.
A critical component of deploying in 5G technology is the allocation and utilization of spectrum, especially valuable mid-band spectrum. Spectrum is a finite resource, and spectrum left unused or underutilized could slow 5G deployment. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the chief agency in spectrum allocation for commercial use. The FCC’s recent auction of 280 MHz of spectrum in the C-Band grossed a record-breaking $81 billion. These spectrum auctions are an important tool to allocate this scarce resource. Given the importance of the C-Band spectrum, the government must move swiftly to evaluate safety concerns..
A concern over safety raised by several stakeholders and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has necessitated an additional review before moving forward with 5G deployment. The FAA is stating that the mid-band spectrum could cause harmful interference with radio altimeters in helicopters and airplanes, devices used to determine a plane’s altitude and assist with landings. This could, the FAA believes, result in the grounding or disruption of flights. Telecommunications companies agreed to delay the rollout for a month to allow for more study and take other precautionary measures.
Legitimate safety aspects are important and should be thoroughly evaluated and considered. After all, no one wants planes falling from the sky. The FAA has a critical responsibility in this area, even as NTU has voiced concerns that the agency has caused major headaches for airlines and their customers in its flawed implementation of the NextGen program. More problems with air traffic due to flawed federal policies are the last thing our economy needs. Thankfully, experts at the FCC completed their due diligence process and implemented safety standards. One such safety mechanism put in place to address the FAA’s concern includes a 220 MHz guard band, double the size of the band suggested by aviation groups during initial comments. The FAA and FCC should, in conjunction with interested parties, move quickly to determine whether these modifications are sufficient or if additional precautions are necessary.
The value of 5G is difficult to overstate. Spectrum auctions, streamlined regulations, and a light-touch approach from federal agencies can help usher in this transformative technology for consumers. Ultimately, the U.S. is on track to lead in this space and bring these enormous benefits to consumers. It’s important to fully evaluate legitimate safety concerns, without unnecessary red tape. Working together, all stakeholders in this issue can benefit from a balanced solution.
Will Yepez is a Policy and Government Affairs Associate for National Taxpayers Union.