Tue. Jan 18th, 2022

AT&T and Verizon on Sunday rejected a request by US regulators to postpone their launch of some 5G wireless services, which are scheduled for this week, amid concerns about possible interference with aviation technology.

A joint letter by US telecommunications chiefs John Stankey and Hans Vestberg escalates a dispute between companies and US regulators over fears within the aviation industry that 5G services could interfere with sensitive aircraft electronics essential for takeoff and landing flights.

Both sides have reviewed 5G deployment plans, which were originally scheduled for Dec. 5, but have agreed to a one-month extension while further safety review can be undertaken.

Stankey and Vestberg on Sunday presented a proposal that AT&T and Verizon would continue with 5G services this week, but would adopt so-called exclusion zones around airports for six months, similar to specifications that apply in France.

“The laws of physics are the same in the United States and France,” the executives wrote, adding that the companies together spent more than $ 80 billion to buy government 5G spectrum and billions more for the accompanying deployment.

They contested a move by government agencies to begin reviewing possible interference with aviation altimeters – which measure an object’s altitude – in November 2021, about ten months after the auction for the 5G spectrum closed.

News of the joint letter was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.

The companies’ proposal comes in response to a request Friday by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration asking telecommunications service providers to delay their deployment on Jan. 5 by a further two weeks.

“Failure to reach a settlement by Jan. 5 will force the U.S. aviation sector to take steps to protect the safety of the traveling public,” U.S. Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg and FAA administrator Steve Dickson wrote on Dec. 31. Such steps “will lead to widespread and unacceptable disruption as aircraft are diverted to other cities or flights are canceled”.

An FAA spokesman said on Sunday that the agency would review the latest proposals from the telecommunications groups and that “US aviation safety standards will guide our next action”.

The latest proposals have drawn further criticism amid concerns that the two parties are far from an agreement on how to proceed.

Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO union, written in a tweet Sunday that the AT&T and Verizon joint letter “shows that the parties are not working on the same set of facts. The systems, both air traffic and telecommunications, are not the same in the two countries ”.

A Verizon spokesman said Sunday that, among hundreds of flights scheduled daily between the U.S. and France, “none of those flights had FAA warnings with it, and there were no immediate cancellations of U.S. flights due to usage. “Of these spectrum bands. In France. What’s the difference? There is no one.”

Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr noted that the 5G services in question, which are deployed on the so-called C-band spectrum, have already been launched in more than 40 countries without known aviation interference.

The DoT and FAA request for a further 5G delay “is part of a dysfunctional trend among certain federal agencies that do not agree with the process that Congress has instituted to make sound decisions on spectrum policy”, he said on Saturday written in a letter to Secretary Buttigieg.

“Anything other than the wireless service providers easing their C-band operations on January 5 under the FCC’s regulatory regime would be an unacceptable setback for US leadership in 5G,” he added.

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