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President Biden Praises AT&T, Verizon Delay of 5G in C-Band

President Joe Biden official portrait
President Joe Biden (Image credit: White House)

President Joe Biden on Tuesday (January 4) praised stakeholders — including FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel — for the agreement by AT&T and Verizon Communications to delay their rollout of 5G wireless service in the C-band spectrum from January 5 to January 19. 

But he also suggested there could still be some air traffic disruptions when 5G does launch in that slice of bandwidth. Biden’s transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, had requested the extra two weeks.

That two-week extension will also give the FCC more time to weigh in on the aviation industry petition to stay its two-year-old decision to allow 5G in the C-Band, though FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel's reaction suggested that stay would no longer be necessary. 

“Last night’s agreement provides the framework and the certainty needed to achieve our shared goal of deploying 5G swiftly while ensuring air safety," she said. "It was made possible by the FCC, DOT, FAA, the wireless companies, and the aviation industry working together to share data, bring together technical experts, and collaborate in good faith to ensure the coexistence of wireless and aviation technologies.” 

The wireless companies — the top two bidders in the C-band spectrum auction — had already delayed the rollout from December over concerns by the Federal Aviation Administration and the airline industry that 5G uses could interfere with critical aviation systems in the adjacent band.

Also: Aviation Groups Try to Block 5G in C-Band

AT&T and Verizon had initially signaled there would be no further delay, but both agreed late Tuesday to a two-week extension.

"My administration is committed to rapid 5G deployment, while minimizing disruptions to air operations and continuing to maintain the world’s safest airspace," Biden said in a statement. The president said all involved were working toward the safe co-existence of 5G and aviation systems — specifically altimeters that tell a plane its orientation to the ground — but he signaled they might not be all the way there when 5G launches.

“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 January 19,” he said.

Already experiencing COVID-19-related — and later weather-related — cancellations, the airline industry had painted a doomsday scenario for January 5. Airlines said the launch of 5G in the C-band could cost the industry $1 billion and delay shipments of COVID-19 vaccines and tests.

The FCC voted unanimously to open the C-band to 5G and said its engineers had determined the two uses could safely co-exist.

The president's full statement is below:

"My 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. 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 January 19th. 

 "For the last few months, my Administration has been convening technical experts at the FAA, the FCC, and from the wireless and aviation industries to discuss a solution that allows the expansion of 5G and aviation to safely co-exist, and I am pleased those efforts helped produce yesterday’s agreement.  I want to thank Secretary Buttigieg, FAA Administrator Dickson, and FCC Chair Rosenworcel, as well as AT&T and Verizon and airline industry leaders, for their tireless work to ensure that the expansion of 5G and aviation can safely co-exist."  ■