The bipartisan leaders of the House Science Committee have requested government investigators examine why federal agencies disagree so starkly about the risks 5G communications technology poses to weather forecasting.
In a letter sent Tuesday to the comptroller general, Science Committee Chairman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.) and Rep. Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.), the ranking Republican, requested the Government Accountability Office, which is the investigative arm of Congress, look into the reasons for the discrepancies between the views of the Federal Communications Commission, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA regarding the potential for certain 5G technology to interfere with crucial weather data-gathering instruments aboard polar orbiting satellites.
A GAO spokesperson said the office is reviewing the request.
Negotiators from around the world announced a deal in late November at a meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for how to roll out 5G technology that operates using specific radio frequency bands.
However, studies completed before the negotiations by NOAA, NASA and the Navy had warned 5G equipment operating in the 24-gigahertz frequency band could interfere with transmissions from polar-orbiting satellites used to gather weather data if sufficient protections were not mandated. This could make weather forecasts much less reliable, the reports found.
In the letter, Johnson and Lucas say they’re “deeply concerned about the potential for degradation of our nation’s weather forecasts from interference in the electromagnetic spectrum.”
Neil Jacobs, the acting NOAA administrator, has warned that in a worst-case scenario, 5G interference could set weather forecast accuracy back by 30 percent, all the way to 1980 levels.
The agencies’ highly technical analyses concluded that if deployed widely and without adequate constraints, telecommunications equipment operating in the 24 GHz frequency band would bleed into the frequencies that NOAA and NASA satellite sensors use to sense the presence and properties of water vapor in the atmosphere, significantly interfering with the collection and transmission of critical weather data.
The NOAA report, for example, warned of a potential loss of 77.4 percent of data coming from microwave sounders mounted on the agency’s polar-orbiting satellites.
The agency’s microwave sounders operate at a frequency of 23.6 to 24 GHz, which is close to the frequency that the FCC auctioned off the use of for about $2 billion beginning this past March.
The major concerns about 5G interference focus on what are known as baseline interference limits, often referred to as out-of-band emission limits. These govern how far outside of a frequency band radio signals can stray, and can be compared to a driver who steers a car temporarily slightly into the wrong lane on a highway.
The letter to the GAO notes that NOAA and NASA’s warnings of interference have been contradicted by the FCC, which has maintained that far lower out of band emissions limits could be set without incurring interference issues. However, frustrating lawmakers and scientists, the FCC has never produced a study of its own backing up that position.
“These contradictory statements between the FCC, NOAA, and NASA regarding the use of the 24 GHz band for 5G are concerning,” the letter states. “Earth observing satellites are critical for protecting the lives and property of the American people from severe weather.”
The letter notes the FCC is planning to allocate additional radio spectrum for 5G networks, and it’s critical to devise an interagency process through which disagreements can be worked out.
The committee leadership request the GAO to evaluate how the government resolves interference issues, including whether a process exists to make sure agencies work together when disagreements arise.
The letter also asks the GAO to look into each agency’s capabilities for evaluating spectrum interference issues.
“It is vital that federal agencies work through these issues in a manner that is independent of political motivation and driven by science,” the letter states.
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