May 14, 2019

Wyden and Cantwell to FCC: Don’t Ignore NASA, NOAA & Navy Concerns on 5G Auction

Senators Highlight Internal U.S. Navy Memo on Potential Dangers of Current FCC Policy

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, yesterday warned that an ongoing sale of wireless airwaves could damage the effectiveness of U.S. weather satellites and harm forecasts and predictions relied on to protect safety, property and national security. They also released an internal U.S. Navy memo that concluded that reducing the accuracy of weather forecasts could threaten the safety of aircraft and naval vessels, and reduce military awareness of battlefield conditions. Wyden and Cantwell urged the Trump administration not to allow wireless companies to operate fifth generation (5G) communications on 24 GHz spectrum until concerns over interference with weather forecasting satellites are addressed.  

“American advancement in 5G networks and devices is critically important to maintaining global leadership. It’s just as imperative, however, for our nation to do 5G right,” Wyden said. “If the FCC continues advocating for standards that fail to pass scientific scrutiny, their decision will lower America’s standing in this global race for 5G leadership and risk serious damage to our economy and national security.”

“Millions of Americans live in areas under increasing threat from hurricanes, tornadoes, and other extreme weather events. The U.S. military and our aviation, maritime, and numerous other industries rely on accurate forecasting information every day to ensure safety and make crucial decisions,” Senator Cantwell said. “We can’t afford to undermine our data and set the quality of weather forecasting back to the 1970s. Instead of overruling or ignoring the experts, the FCC and the administration should look at the science, listen to experts, and take the time needed to get this right.”

 In the letter addressed to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, the senators detailed concerns from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) about damage to the quality of U.S. weather forecasting and reducing the reliability of extreme weather predictions relied on by emergency managers and responders, American industries and the U.S. military. They also highlighted concerns voiced by the U.S. Navy that interference with weather satellites could result in increased risks to both aircraft and naval vessels.  

The senators requested the FCC provide them with the following information no later than June 11, 2019:

  1. Provide any computer models, assumptions, and analysis that support the FCC’s rule on emission limits from future commercial broadband transmissions in the 24 GHz band and show that it will not impact applications in adjacent frequency bands, particularly satellite measurements of water vapor in the 23.8 GHz band that is so important to weather forecasting.
  2. Explain what the FCC intends to do if the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) refuses to accept the current FCC advocated level on emissions limits in the 24 GHz band. 
  3. Explain the reconciliation process used to resolve the dispute between NASA/NOAA and the FCC in favor of the FCC’s position.  Please include the timeline of the events in that process and all relevant documents, including emails or other digital communications.
  4. Explain and provide supporting documentation related to the FCC’s public interest analysis, including any cost-benefit analysis, on the FCC’s emissions limit. In particular, explain how the FCC addressed the costs to taxpayers from the loss of billions of dollars of investment in weather-sensing satellites, the costs to public safety and national security, and to the nation’s commercial activities that rely on this critical weather data. 

A full version of the letter is available here.