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Biden Applauds Telecoms’ Decision to Delay 5G Deployment Over Aviation Concerns

January 4, 2022 by Dan McCue
Biden Applauds Telecoms’ Decision to Delay 5G Deployment Over Aviation Concerns
Verizon technicians installing a 5G node. (Photo courtesy Verizon)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday applauded AT&T and Verizon Communications’ decision to agree to a two-week delay in deploying 5G technology using a bandwidth airlines use to navigate in low-visibility situations.

Verizon and AT&T bought a portion of the so-called C-Band last February for more than $80 billion and were to begin using it on Wednesday.

But as the deployment day grew nearer, airlines, airline pilot and flight attendant unions, and lawmakers including Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, weighed in with concerns, most of them centering on claims the new wireless activity on the bandwidth could interfere with the radar altimeters on commercial aircraft and helicopters.

Last month, the FAA issued two directives warning of increased delays and cancellations if pilots could not rely on radar altimeters.

And airlines — already battered in recent days by the cancellation of thousands of flights  due to COVID-19-related staffing shortages and weather — were preparing to file an emergency petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals on Monday to delay the deployment of the technology.

The path to the breakthrough was apparently laid Friday – New Year’s Eve – when Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Aviation Administrator Steve Dickson wrote a letter to Verizon and AT&T asking them to hold off for no more than two weeks while the FAA identified buffer zones around key airports.

The companies initially rejected the proposal but by Monday night embraced it as a better alternative than having to fight the airline industry in court. Under the new deal, the telecoms agreed to delay deployment of 5G to the c-band until Jan. 19.

Both AT&T and Verizon issued brief statements announcing the agreement and restating their intention to offer their customers expanded 5G service this month.

“At Secretary Buttigieg’s request, we have voluntarily agreed to one additional two-week delay of our deployment of C-Band 5G services,” an AT&T spokesperson said in an email to The Well News. “We also remain committed to the six-month protection zone mitigations we outlined in our letter. We know aviation safety and 5G can co-exist and we are confident further collaboration and technical assessment will allay any issues.”

Commenting on the agreement from the White House, Biden said his administration is committed “to rapid 5G deployment, while minimizing disruptions to air operations and continuing to maintain the world’s safest airspace.” 

“Last night’s agreement is a significant step in the right direction, and we’re grateful to all parties for their cooperation and good faith,” he said. “This agreement ensures that there will be no disruptions to air operations over the next two weeks and puts us on track to substantially reduce disruptions to air operations when AT&T and Verizon launch 5G on Jan. 19.”

Biden noted that administration officials have been conferring with technical experts at the FAA, the FCC and from the wireless and aviation industries to resolve the airlines’ concerns and prevent a potential impasse.

“I am pleased those efforts helped produce yesterday’s agreement,” Biden said.

In a separate statement, the FAA said AT&T and Verizon have offered “to implement a set of mitigations comparable to measures used in some European operating environments.”

“While U.S. standards and operating environments are unique, we believe this could substantially reduce the disruptions to air operations,” the agency said.

These additional mitigations will be in place for six months around 50 airports identified as those with the greatest impact to the U.S. aviation sector.

“Safety is the core of our mission and this guides all of our decisions,” the agency statement continued. “The FAA thanks AT&T and Verizon for agreeing to a voluntary delay and for their proposed mitigations. We look forward to using the additional time and space to reduce flight disruptions associated with this 5G deployment.”

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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