FAA Blocks 5G Deployments Over Safety Concerns Despite No Actual Evidence Of Harm

from the evidence-optional dept

A few weeks back, both Verizon and AT&T announced they'd be pausing some aspects of their 5G deployments over FAA concerns that those deployments would create significant safety hazards. The problem: there's absolutely no evidence that those safety concerns are legitimate.

The FAA and airline industry claim that use of the 3.7 to 3.98 GHz "C-Band" spectrum to deploy 5G wireless creates interference for avionics equipment (specifically radio altimeters). But the FCC has closely examined the claims and found no evidence of actual harm anywhere in the world, where more than 40 countries have deployed C-band spectrum for 5G use. Just to be sure, the FCC set aside a 220 MHz guard band that will remain unused as a sort of buffer to prevent this theoretical interference (double the amount Boeing requested).

None of this was enough for the FAA. That's of major annoyance to AT&T and Verizon, which paid $45.45 billion and $23.41 billion respectively earlier this year for C-band spectrum, and have been widely and justifiably critcized for underwhelming 5G network performance and availability so far. Consumer advocates and policy experts like Harold Feld are also confused as to why the FAA continues to block deployment in these bands despite no evidence of actual harm:

"...the technical evidence on which the FAA bases its interference concerns have a lot of problems — not least of which that about 40 other countries operate similar 5G deployments in the same C-Band without any interference showing up. Either physics works differently in the U.S., or the report at the center of this controversy needs to explain why this hasn’t shown up in any other country where deployments are either authorized or have already taken place."

Not only did the FAA block the deployment of 5G in the C-band based on what appears to be nonexistent evidence of harm, Feld suggests that while the FAA has been leaking their concerns to the Wall Street Journal, they've simultaneously refused to hand over needed data to the FCC (you know, the agency that actually has expertise in wireless spectrum deployment and use).

As Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica notes, the FAA's own November 2 bulletin (pdf) states there's no "proven reports of harmful interference" with C-Band 5G deployments anywhere in the world. As Feld notes, the entire fracas (which began during the Trump era and continues until now) should be remedied once the FCC is finally fully staffed:

"If nothing else, this exercise should make it abundantly clear why the Senate needs to confirm Davison, Rosenworcel and Sohn as quickly as possible. We cannot have spectrum disputes between agency fought out in the press in ways that destabilize confidence in the safety of air travel. Federal policy at this level is not a game of chicken, and cannot be fought out like this in the press. We need the key agencies here at full strength and able to resolve the systemic problem — not just the existing problem."

In the interim, the dumb squabble will just contribute to the existing din of gibberish about how 5G is a health and safety hazard. Evidence of most of these claims remains entirely optional.

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Filed Under: 5g, c-band, faa, safety, wireless
Companies: at&t, verizon


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2021 @ 6:58am

    In the interim, the dumb squabble will just contribute to the existing din of gibberish about how 5G is a health and safety hazard.

    Has the FAA joined QAnon?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    PaulT (profile), 23 Nov 2021 @ 7:24am

    Re:

    I read this and wondered if it was another example of a certain orange moron appointing people with questionable associations to the reality of their position to run the agency.

    A quick search confirmed that, while the current FAA head doesn't seem to be as openly unqualified or hostile to the agency's effectiveness as some of his other appointees, he was indeed a Trump nomination.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Rico R. (profile), 23 Nov 2021 @ 7:26am

    Re:

    Nah… The FAA is just upset that 5G deployment is interfering with their experiments to resurrect JFK Jr. from the dead!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2021 @ 8:27am

    " .. Either physics works differently in the U.S. ..."

    Going by the Orange one and his adherents, any science has the option to work differently in the U.S.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2021 @ 8:35am

    so, which mobile phone companies paid who and how much, to stop this service, simply because the companies didn't wanna pay out to upgrade their equipment? cant be any other reason for stopping this deployment. i wonder how soon the 'cap in hand' brigade will be out begging for yet more tax payers money to pay for it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Annonymouse, 23 Nov 2021 @ 8:40am

    Re:

    The cluster f... ahem ... the issues predate the orange one by a few decades.

    Agencies still operate with various imperial units of measurement while the real scientists and engineers, with some sad exceptions, operate with metric units.

    You would think operating in base 10 would be right up the alley of finger counters but then again nobody seems able to calculate change without the help of an electronic crutch.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Annonymouse, 23 Nov 2021 @ 8:43am

    Re:

    Begging is only done by the elected representatives who siphon public funds out to obtain donated funds back in so as to remain in office.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2021 @ 9:01am

    Re: Re:

    That's just units. I'm in the UK, we buy 'gas' by the litre, measure large distances in miles, and state fuel consumption in MPG. I'm old enoigh to remember teachers talking about fps, Ergs and Slugs. Conversion can be done - even if one has to rely on an electronic crutch

    Concerning is the rejection/complete ignorance of the actual science.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2021 @ 9:03am

    Re: Re:

    That's just units. I'm in the UK, we buy 'gas' by the litre, measure large distances in miles, and state fuel consumption in MPG. I'm old enoigh to remember teachers talking about fps, Ergs and Slugs. Conversion can be done - even if one has to rely on an electronic crutch

    Concerning is the rejection/complete ignorance of the actual science.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    sumgai (profile), 23 Nov 2021 @ 9:37am

    Re:

    While the two above answers hold some water, the real answer is that the FAA is all butthurt because their brother agency (the FCC) didn't share any of the loot from the sale of that spectrum.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    sumgai (profile), 23 Nov 2021 @ 9:40am

    Talk about rentiers! That "sale" is only a lease for the exclusive right to use a given portion of the entire radio spectrum - the government thinks they still own and control all radio frequencies, period. Aaaaand we're back to that old fight of licensing versus an actual sale. Damn, but we do live in interesting times.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    James Burkhardt (profile), 23 Nov 2021 @ 10:53am

    Re:

    I'm putting this as part a top level comment as well, but I'm going to do this as a response here as well.

    The FAA banned cell phones for decades on the very same "it interfere with da radios" premise. The FAA doesn't like anything other than planes communicating wirelessly. For some reason my CRT TV had to accept interference from my cell phone otherwise planes would be falling from the sky.

    Its the same here. lots of FUD to justify their jobs and hidebound efforts to keep plane travel in the 50s while the airport lives in 1984.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Travis, 23 Nov 2021 @ 10:55am

    Likely blame Boeing

    Aren't the 737 max and 787 still grounded? The FAA decision is probably due to more QA failures discovered in the avionics for the newer planes. There was a recent report about tolerance issues with the 787. I'd imagine the cheap trash they're using doesn't properly filter to spec.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    James Burkhardt (profile), 23 Nov 2021 @ 10:59am

    between the confusion of policy experts, and the conspiracy theorists in our comments, theres a lot of "why could they possibly be doing this?"

    The FAA banned cell phones being on while the plane is in motion for decades on the very same "it interfere with da radios" premise. A decade after anecdotal evidence from widespread failure to turn them off and academic studies pointed out this wasn't likely, it still took congress repeatedly dragging them through the mud and repeated high-profile spats with passengers for them to allow "Airplane mode". The FAA doesn't like anything other than planes communicating wirelessly. Regardless of the evidence, this is what the FAA has done.

    Its the same here. Lots of FUD to justify their jobs and hidebound efforts to keep plane travel in the 50s while the airport lives in 1984. I'm more confused why a "policy expert" would find themselves confused over this action. What part of the FAA's history suggests they are forward looking when it comes to communications tech?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2021 @ 11:18am

    5G

    Good God, Grift Going Great!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Discuss It (profile), 23 Nov 2021 @ 12:15pm

    Sympathy?

    I'll have some sympathy for AT&T and Verizon and T-Mobile when they are using more spectrum than they're hording to create market barriers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Nov 2021 @ 1:29pm

    It wouldn't surprise me if the wireless telcos didn't put the FAA up to this as cover for their lack of coverage. We keep hearing about retiring 3G/2G (what are we supposed to fall back on when we go over our 4G data? oh, more money.), and their 5G networks, but there the hell are they? And why should everyone be forced to "upgrade" and pay for fake 5G? -- Note also that the notices for G retirement, even from places like Consumer Cellular, are essentially scaring older and less knowledgeable people into buying new phones for no reason.

    If you thought the whole 4G thing in the states was a lie and a scam, welcome to the latest one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    JoeCool (profile), 23 Nov 2021 @ 2:59pm

    Re: Likely blame Boeing

    The 737 Max has been flying again for a while. All it took was a software update since it was just a software problem in the first place.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 24 Nov 2021 @ 9:50am

    Re:

    I don't think going over your allotment forces reversion to 3G, it triggers bandwidth limits to 3G speeds. Or 2G or whatever.

    The question really is what to do with all these old phones. Normally they'd be given away to various groups as emergency devices, such as abused women's organizations, but if the network doesn't exist, free 911 calls are kind of useless.

    And the roadside emergency assistance system in my 2014 car is also useless. Alas, Lexus is not interested in providing an upgrade, even though as a technical challenge it's laughable. Throwing a whole car away just to get that feature seems a bit extreme, at least to a working grunt like me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Nov 2021 @ 1:38pm

    Re:

    For once, it doesnt seem to be the industry's fault. I'm as surprised as you are, but seems to be FAA not liking anything that they can imagine ever touching their domain

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Nov 2021 @ 1:41pm

    Bureaucratic Translator

    "confused" in the policy world means "are you fucking kidding me?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Lostinlodos (profile), 24 Nov 2021 @ 10:16pm

    Re: Re:

    Exactly. This has nothing to do with Trump or his choices of people. The FAA has long been against anything that they don’t control.

    I’m old enough to remember not just cell phone hate, but the 8-bit revolution they stepped on! The game systems they stepped on. The cable tv rollout.
    keep in mind this is the same FAA that stepped on wireless phones. Wired phones. CFL lightbulbs (Mother Jones did an article on bulbs that touched on that if I recall correctly).

    They bytch about everything. It’s rule one for any new technology. The faa will complain about it.
    I’m surprised their offices aren’t wrapped in tinfoil.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 25 Nov 2021 @ 2:41am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "I’m surprised their offices aren’t wrapped in tinfoil."

    [citation required]

    I find it remarkable, though, how the US seems unable to keep any agency from sliding down the rabbit hole of "insane". It's not as if the phenomenon of narcissistic mini-popes helming their agencies like personal ultra-authoritarian fiefdoms is unknown elsewhere...but in the US it seems the rule rather than the exception that this is the case. And I really want to know why.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Rocky, 25 Nov 2021 @ 3:07am

    Re: Re:

    Throwing a whole car away just to get that feature seems a bit extreme, at least to a working grunt like me.

    Which I blame on planned obsolescence. There are two things at play here, one, if they don't support upgrades for older cars you will eventually be forced to buy a new one which helps with, two, keeping the cost down on having spare-parts available. The gap that exists between how long a manufacturer finds it convenient to support the vehicle and how long the car can actually function reliable is where we find 3rd party parts, but almost never will there be drop-in replacements for any electronics you may need.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 26 Nov 2021 @ 2:46am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    [addendum]

    And by the request for citation I'd like evidence those offices aren't, in fact, wrapped in tinfoil.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2021 @ 5:21am

    Re:

    Here is real pilots view of the problem, supported by actual research. There is a potential problem with radar altimeters used for blind landings, which means there may be a need for some restrictions around airports. That is the problems may arise during final approach and automatic landings in poor visibility, and the autopilot systems are flying the plane onto the runway.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    Lostinlodos (profile), 26 Nov 2021 @ 10:11am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Ohkay, now that was funny!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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