Sen. Johnson Seeks Commerce Data on 24 GHz Pushback

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) wants some answers from the Secretary of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross over the tensions between the FCC and National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), an arm of Commerce, over clearing spectrum in the 24 GHz band.

That came in a letter to Ross dated Monday (June 24).

Commerce has registered concerns over the impact of out-of-band emissions on weather monitoring, though FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said that was based on questionable data and he is convinced 24 GHz spectrum can be freed up without threatening weather predicting by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Related: FCC's Pai Says 24GHz Data Is Fundamentally Flawed

When pressed at a Senate FCC oversight hearing, Pai said Commerce had been blocking and undermining the FCC's efforts "at every single turn," and that that had gotten worse since former National Telecommunications & Information chief David Redl resigned.

The FCC conducted an auction of that 24 GHz spectrum earlier this year despite the pushback from Commerce.

The issue has gotten press attention, often framing it as the Trump Administration's race to 5G running roughshod over critical weather warnings at a time of unstable weather patterns sourced to climate change.

Johnson is certainly on board with the importance of winning the race to 5G, but suggests there were different issues at play in the Commerce stance.

"The completion of the 24 GHz auction earlier this month brought us one step closer to winning the race to 5G," Johnson wrote in a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. "But I was surprised to learn that at the very tail end of a 5+ year process, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), both within the Department of Commerce, as well as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), all of a sudden raised concerns that emissions from the 24 GHz band might interfere with and adversely impact weather forecasting. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai recently testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation that NOAA’s claims are based on a study that is “fundamentally flawed.”

He said that he understood that a Ross senior advisor may be "placing personal animosity ahead of our country's 5G goals," a charge that has been making the rounds since the exit of former NTIA head David Redl, according to various Hill sources.

Given that the World Radiocommunications Conference is coming up in August, where harmonization of the 24GHz band use will be an issue, Johnson, who appears to have his own issues with the data, said he wants the following by July 10.

1. "Technical studies prepared by NOAA, NTIA, the Department of Commerce or outside consultants related to out of band emissions in the 24 GHz band.

2. "Correspondence, emails, memos, or data regarding 24 GHz emission levels and the impact on weather forecasting or similar issues whether in support of or counter to the FCC’s adopted levels.

3. "A written commitment:

To support the U.S. winning the race to 5G through significantly expanding commercial wireless industry access to spectrum as the President has declared; and

a. "That you have directed your staff, NTIA, and NOAA to support the U.S. position on 24 GHz and all other issues in the international WRC negotiations and all preparatory meetings and outreach.

4. "A written explanation of:

a. "Why NOAA used data from a sensor that was never built to brief members of Congress about concerns related to the 24 GHz auction;

b. "Why NOAA, NTIA, or the Department of Commerce did not raise objections to the use of the 24 GHz band when the FCC sought comment to use this band for commercial use in 2014;

c. "Why NOAA did not seek reconsideration of the FCC’s rules at the time they were adopted;

d. "Which passive sensors or passive sensor parameters NOAA, NTIA, the Department of Commerce or their outside d. consultants studied related to 24 GHz out of band emissions and why; and

e. "Why NOAA, NTIA, the Department of Commerce and/or their outside consultants decided not to move forward with the study on 24 GHz out of band emissions prepared by NOAA and previously submitted to the U.S. preparatory process for ITU Task Group 5/1.

5. "A staff briefing on or before July 12, 2019."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.