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Does 5G expansion threaten weather forecasting, ‘national security’ and the lives of Americans?

By John Roach, AccuWeather staff writer
June 24, 2019, 4:00:12 PM EDT

Trump, FCC, Ajit Pai

FCC chairman Ajit Pai, right, looks on as President Donald Trump delivers remarks on the deployment of 5G technology in the United States during an event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)


An intense ongoing debate featuring the Trump administration and proponents of 5G expansion in the United States versus a number of elected officials in Washington, the U.S. Weather Enterprise and private-sector businesses could have far-reaching, possibly ominous consequences.

The focus of the issue: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has auctioned off radio frequencies on the 24 gigahertz (GHz) spectrum to generate revenue and position America as a power in the emerging 5G marketplace. However, other uses of those frequencies could affect the ability for weather satellites to accurately sense the atmosphere, potentially impacting the quality of weather forecasts made by forecast models. Weather forecast models are one of the tools used by meteorologists when generating forecasts and warnings for the public.

The debate in Washington is over a set of frequencies between 24.25 and 25.25 GHz that may impact critical satellite observations on water vapor, which is tracked in the 23.6 to 24 GHz range, and is vital to severe weather forecasts and forecasting models at the heart of the Weather Enterprise. The concern is over out-of-band emissions because of the closeness of the frequencies.

Water vapor satellite image of Hurricane Lane

This NASA satellite imagery shows a water vapor reading of Hurricane Lane in the Central Pacific Ocean southeast of the Hawaiian Islands Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. ( AP / NASA)


“To continue to ignore the serious alarms the scientific community is raising could lead to dangerous impacts to American national security, to American industries and to the American people,” wrote U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell of Washington and Ron Wyden of Oregon, both Democrats, in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

On June 12, at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Pai defended the use of the spectrum for 5G wireless services, according to SpaceNews.com. “Over the last two-and-a-half years we have patiently waited for a validated study to suggest that our proposed limit is inappropriate,” Pai said. “We’ve never gotten such a validated study.”

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Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel told committee chairman Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi, “We have to resolve issues like this before we go to auction. I have not been in the meetings where we have gotten to the bottom of just what threshold for out-of-band emissions should apply, but I share your disappointment that we are in this position right now.”

Cantwell said that Wicker agreed to hold a separate hearing by the Senate Commerce Committee on this issue “in the near future.”

Additionally, the FCC also issued a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) on May 22 as part of its intention to sell frequencies in the 1675-1680 megahertz (MHz) portion of the radio spectrum, which also could impact vital geostationary satellite data for a wide range of weather-related functions.

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