FCC’s Spectrum Sharing Proposal Draws Lawmaker Concerns

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House Science Committee leaders urged the FCC’s commissioners to refrain from sharing the spectrum band used by NOAA with commercial wireless carriers.

The leaders of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee sent letters to the Federal Communications Commission’s four commissioners on Monday expressing concerns about the agency’s proposal to allocate portions of the spectrum band used for weather forecasting services for use by commercial wireless providers. 

The letters, from committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, and Ranking Member Frank Lucas, R-Okla., were sent after the release of the Spectrum Pipeline Reallocation Engineering Study—or SPRES—a report prepared by independent scientific experts contracted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—or NOAA—to examine the potential impact that sharing the 1675-1680 MHz spectrum band with commercial wireless carriers “operating in the downlink mode” would have on weather services. 

Similar copies of the same letter were sent to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and commissioners Brendan Carr, Geoffrey Starks and Nathan Simington.

The lawmakers’ letters noted that NOAA uses the 1675-1680 MHz band “for the transmission of real-time satellite meteorological and environmental data, including critical information about severe weather and flooding.”

The SPRES report found that “three specific types of signals currently transmitted by NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service for weather and environmental data in and near the 1675-1680 MHz band are at risk for harmful interference if the band is shared with new commercial users,” according to the lawmakers’ letters. 

“Given these findings, the SPRES report concluded that ‘spectrum sharing with commercial wireless carriers operating in the downlink mode is not viable,’“ Johnson and Lucas wrote. “Therefore, we urge FCC to heed the conclusions of the scientific record and formally vacate consideration of sharing the 1675-1680 MHz band for downlink purposes. The SPRES report makes clear that this step is necessary to avoid threats to the critical weather functions performed by NOAA in the band, avoiding property damage and loss of life.”

The report was completed between 2018 and 2020, although the letters noted that it was released in late October “after extensive interagency comment and review.”

The FCC adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking on May 9, 2019, to consider reallocating spectrum “in the 1675-1680 MHz band for shared use between incumbent federal users and new, non-federal flexible-use wireless operations.” 

Although the agency has not advanced the proposal since its adoption, Johnson and Lucas wrote in their letters that it “would be premature for FCC to take any further action” on the matter, particularly since the SPRES report identified “some follow-up research tasks” to determine “the potential feasibility and effectiveness of mitigation strategies recommended in the SPRES for uplink interference.”

“High quality, uninterrupted dissemination of weather satellite data and information is one of the most fundamental functions of the United States government for protecting public safety and property,” Johnson and Lucas wrote. “A whole-of-government approach to spectrum management is needed to enable U.S. telecommunications leadership while protecting these critical activities at federal science agencies.”