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AT&T, Verizon Reject FAA Request to Delay 5G Expansion

AT&T and Verizon have rejected a request by the FAA to delay the planned launch next week of their 5G wireless services, but offered to limit the power of their signals for six months, giving regulators more time to study how they could affect aircraft operations.

Earlier this year, an FCC auction sold the two carriers rights to use “C-band” frequencies at a price of nearly $70 billion. Verizon and AT&T are eager to roll it out so that in addition to offering ultra-fast 5G connectivity in specific areas using high-band millimeter-wave technology and much slower 5G over low-band frequencies.

On Friday, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and FAA Administrator Steve Dickson sent a letter to AT&T CEO John Stankey and Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg Friday, asking them to push back plans to start commercial deployment on January 5th. The air travel regulators said they’d use that time to identify priority airports, notify flights, and line up alternate methods of compliance.

Bloomberg and Reuters report that in a response letter today from the two CEOs, the companies, which had already ceded to a 30-day delay request and agreed to reduce the power of their signals, said no. They propose to start using the C-band spectrum to expand their 5G services, but with a commitment to avoid deployment around certain airports for six months, saying a similar system is already in place in France.

The new spectrum will provide in-between performance over much wider areas. T-Mobile currently uses mid-band spectrum that isn’t in the C-band. However, that commitment relies “on the condition that the FAA and the aviation industry are committed to doing the same without escalating their grievances, unfounded as they are, in other venues.”

FCC commissioner Mike O’Reilly tweeted about the letter, saying, “We can have safe wireless and safe flights. Reasoned people should accept US wireless industry not have more C-Band limitations than France.”

At issue is the idea that guided landing systems for aircraft “could be limited due to concerns that the 5G signal could interfere with the accuracy of an airplane’s radio altimeter, without other mitigations in place,” according to the FAA. C-band 5G and these radio altimeters don’t actually operate in the same band, but the bands are close enough that the fear exists.

Reuters points out that the trade group Airlines for America that represents American Airlines, JetBlue, Delta, FedEx, and UPS, among others, has threatened to go to court on Monday if the FCC does not take action on the 5G rollout.

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