US President Joe Biden has welcomed a deal between wireless carriers and US regulators that will roll out a new 5G wireless network in two weeks and stave off a safety crisis.
AT&T and Verizon Communications have agreed to delay deployment of C-band wireless spectrum until January 19, but have received key assurances that they can begin service this month, according to a letter from the Transport Department
The delay came after pressure from the White House, aviation unions and the threat of airlines to sue to block the deployment that could have disrupted thousands of daily flights.
“The 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 January 19th.” said Biden
The aviation industry and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have raised concerns about 5G’s potential interference with sensitive aircraft electronics, such as radio altimeters, which could disrupt flights.
Verizon chief executive Hans Vestberg told employees Tuesday in an email that it sees no aviation safety issue with 5G, but said the FAA “intended to disrupt an already difficult time for air travel if we move ahead with our planned activation… We felt that it was the right thing to do for the flying public, which includes our customers and all of us, to give the FAA a little time to work out its issues with the aviation community.”
US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and FAA Chief Administrator Steve Dixon told AT&T and Verizon in a letter reviewed by Reuters that the agencies will not seek any further delays in the rollout of 5G wireless service beyond January 19, in the absence of any “unforeseen safety concerns. “.
The agreement “will give us additional time and space to reduce the impacts to commercial flights,” they wrote.
The attached “final term sheet” said unless “unforeseen aviation safety issues” arise the US agencies “will not seek or demand any further delays of C-Band deployment, in whole or in part, including a delay of return to routine operations.”
Airlines for America, a group representing American Airlines, FedEx, Delta Air Lines and others, was preparing to sue in the absence of delay, industry officials told reporters.
AT&T and Verizon agreed over the weekend to adopt six-month exclusion zones around certain airports in an attempt to reflect safeguards adopted by France, but rejected Buttigieg’s request for a delay of up to ‘to two weeks.
The letter said that by Friday regulators will provide the carriers “with a list of no more than 50 priority airports that they would propose to be subject to the C-Band exclusion zones” that AT&T and Verizon had proposed Sunday.
Additional requests for “voluntary surgical mitigation measures at any individual airport” may be made, but AT&T and Verizon “have sole discretion to determine whether any requested mitigation, adjustments, or changes are made”.
AT&T and Verizon won nearly the entire C-band spectrum at an $ 80 billion auction last year. In total, Verizon paid $ 52.9 billion for the specter, including incentive payments and billing costs, to reach over 100 million Americans, while AT&T paid $ 23.4 billion.
AT&T and Verizon in November initially agreed to delay implementation by 30 days until January 5, after the FAA raised safety concerns and the carriers adopted voluntary precautionary measures for six months.
A wireless industry official said the deal gives them assurances they will be able to begin deployment this month.