Verizon and AT&T deny regulators’ request to delay new 5G services

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Federal transportation officials want AT&T and Verizon to postpone their planned launch of expanded 5G wireless services this week, citing fears of signal interference they say could pose flight safety risks. On Sunday, the cellphone companies responded and said no.

In a letter sent on Friday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Steve Dickson, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration, asked the two wireless companies to delay the planned introduction of new 5G technology on Wednesday for a “short period” of up to two weeks.

Failure to reach an agreement “will require the U.S. aviation industry to take action to protect the safety of the traveling public,” the officials wrote. “These measures will cause widespread and unacceptable disruption as planes divert to other cities or flights are canceled, causing ripple effects throughout the US air transportation system.”

On Sunday, AT&T and Verizon announced plans to continue their 5G expansion. The aviation industry has had nearly two years to upgrade any equipment that might be affected by the new spectrum use, the companies said.

“Both of our companies are deeply committed to public safety and national security, and fortunately the question of whether 5G operations can safely co-exist with aviation has long been settled,” said John Stankey, chief executive. of AT&T, and Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon. , wrote in a joint letter.

The fight could add to the turmoil that has plagued airlines and their passengers over the past week, as carriers battled harsh winter weather and a wave of coronavirus that reduced staff during a peak period of vacation trips.

Cellphone carriers previously agreed to a 30-day postponement of their planned December debut of the 5G expansion. Federal officials said they want the additional delay to give them time to identify critical airports that need a buffer zone to temporarily protect their operations.

Verizon and AT&T offered an alternative compromise: For six months, until early July, the companies said they would comply with a version of the restrictions currently in place in France, which would severely limit the signals in question around runways. busy airports.

The expansion of 5G is a major priority for mobile operators. Verizon and A&T collectively paid more than $70 billion last year in a government auction for access to so-called C-band spectrum, which will give their networks greater geographic reach and stronger signals. fast. Carriers have yet to say which areas will get the new services this week, or how many customers they will cover, but Verizon said last month that it expects its new spectrum to reach 100 million customers. here March. AT&T said it plans to reach at least 70 million people in the United States by the end of this year.

The confrontation is also, to some extent, a fight between government regulators. The Federal Communications Commission has urged wireless carriers to expand their 5G networks, while the Federal Aviation Administration has sought to slow things down in response to airline concerns.

On Saturday, Brendan Carr, a Republican FCC commissioner appointed by President Donald J. Trump, tweeted about a letter he sent that day to Mr. Buttigieg criticizing the agency’s objections.

“Your claim for delay is not supported by science, engineering or law,” Carr wrote.

An FAA spokeswoman said in a written statement that the agency was reviewing the letter from the wireless carriers.

“US aviation safety standards will guide our next actions,” she said.

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