House technology committee leaders ask to postpone 5G spectrum auction

This article originally appeared on The Hill by Emily Birnbaum.

The House technology committee on Wednesday asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to postpone a 5G spectrum auction scheduled for Thursday.

Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), the chairman and ranking member of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, in letters to the five FCC commissioners, raised concerns that the spectrum for sale could interfere with technology that enables weather and climate forecasting.

The lawmakers called the spectrum auction a potential threat to “public safety,” noting that the sensors help scientists track hurricanes and predict weather patterns with greater precision.

Three federal bodies — NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Pentagon — deploy sensors that use water vapor data to analyze weather and climate patterns. Johnson and Lucas wrote that the radio frequency spectrum up for auction could interfere with signals for those sensors.

“The water vapor channel is critical to weather sensing, monitoring, forecasting and warning, and understanding climate patterns,” they wrote. “Any interferences with this channel would therefore seriously impact public safety.”

The FCC in a statement pushed back on their concerns, saying the FCC’s rule for the band in question “went through the standard interagency coordination process.”

“Tomorrow’s … auction is an important step toward securing American leadership in 5G,” Brian Hart, the head of FCC media relations, said in a statement to The Hill.

“It is, therefore, perplexing to be asked to postpone this auction the day before it is going to start,” Hart added. “The FCC will move forward as planned so that our nation can win the race to 5G and the American people can quickly enjoy the benefits of the next generation of wireless connectivity.”

Thirty-eight companies have been approved to participate in Thursday’s 5G spectrum auction, including top telecommunications companies T-Mobile and AT&T.

The auction comes as companies compete to roll out 5G wireless communications technologies, which they say will operate at exponentially higher speeds than current technology.

The tech and telecom industries have been excitedly cheerleading the introduction of 5G, touting its potentially massive economic benefits. Skeptics of the technology say it is nowhere near ready for rollout.

The FCC in November launched its first high-band 5G spectrum auction to take place in stages over the next 15 months. The top telecommunications companies are competing to acquire spectrum.

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