The FCC, the FAA and the costly delay of US 5G technology

What looked like a long-awaited US infrastructure achievement may have to wait until after Christmas to see how the final chapter ends. Finally, US telecommunications companies are rolling out 5G cellular networks for their customers; unfortunately, they also ran into a bureaucratic brick wall – a public feud between two federal agencies.

There is an urgent need to solve this problem because new networks are an order of magnitude faster than current networks and will allow entirely new services and industries to develop around them. American companies have already made significant investments based on the immediate availability of 5G in the near future, and these, in turn, will bring tangible improvements in the lives of Americans.

With the 5G network deployment scheduled to take place in December, the FAA filed a last-minute objection to the plan, saying it found evidence that 5G services could potentially interfere with the operation of aircraft altimeters, which use a adjacent spectrum. The last-minute objection is puzzling, given that the FCC – not the FAA – is the competent agency for telecommunications matters (not to mention the expertise to discern such things).

If you haven’t kept track of the problem, you might think that US telecommunications companies have been pushing innovative 5G services faster than the government could regulate them. You would be wrong, however. America’s switch to 5G was not in a hurry: research into its development began about 13 years ago, in 2008.

The FCC began taking steps to prepare for a transition several years ago, including performing the necessary tests to ensure the transition would not negatively impact entities using nearby spectrum. In other words, the issue raised by the FAA should have been settled some time ago. Over the past few years, the transition has proceeded rapidly, which, among other things, involved compensating entities that waived their rights to the spectrum, moving other entities to a new band, and ensuring that the new arrangements would work satisfactorily for all involved.

The United States must make this 5G transition in a timely manner, as this “fifth generation” of wireless technology will improve the speed and reduce latency of wireless communication networks. These improvements will enable services that have the potential to revolutionize healthcare, transportation, agriculture, education and many other facets of our society. For example, driverless cars cannot communicate with each other – a necessary precursor for their safe operation – without 5G speeds, and things like remote medical procedures will be impossible.

In addition to more convenient and innovative consumer goods and services, the economic costs to the United States of delaying large-scale 5G deployment would be enormous: study estimates benefits of 5G deployment to approach 300 billion dollars over the next six years alone. .

People who live in large metropolitan areas in the United States, such as Washington DC, already have some access to 5G networks, but expanding the network beyond the dense urban communities in the more rural areas that make up much of the population. United States involves a lot more investment, and it is this deployment that is being delayed by the FAA-FCC spat. People who live in these more rural communities will pay the highest price if the rollout of the 5G network is further delayed, which would deepen the digital divide.

There could also be second-order downstream effects of the telecommunications industry on the wider US business community. The uncertainty created by the last-minute break can cause companies to hesitate before investing more in developing new products that would exploit 5G networks. If it becomes possible for some of that spectrum to remain with the FAA, it may impinge on the functionality of a myriad of products currently in development.

The FAA’s attempt to slow or stop the rollout of 5G is emblematic of a larger issue with regulators having overlapping jurisdictions in that they generally have no trend – or incentive – to consider the impact of their own agenda on the priorities of other regulators. agencies, and suboptimal political decision-making ensues.

For example, when the FAA attempted to impose a rule that children under two must travel with a car seat, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (where I worked at the time) halted its efforts, stressing that such a move would increase the cost of theft for families with young children and that the extra driving they would do as a result would result in more deaths than children traveling without a car seat.

The FAA did not back down, however: its job, according to agency staff, was to improve safety on planes, and the impact of its rules on fatalities on freeways was just not in its scope. list of considerations. Unfortunately, OIRA has not yet appointed an administrator, so it may be unable to negotiate this dispute. Hopefully the White House will step in if this delay persists.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of 5G to our nation’s future standard of living, and further delays would cost U.S. households dearly by affecting our national competitiveness, reducing their incomes, and retaining technological improvements that could improve. their health, safety and standard of living from reaching them.

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