House Science Committee Not Buying Ajit Pai’s Assurances on Weather Forecasting

Ajit Pai

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The battle over 5G wireless frequency allocation is heating up.

On  one side, there’s NASA, the Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who say that spectrum in the 24GHz band the government recently auctioned off to private companies will likely result in cell signals that would interfere with accurate weather forecasting.

On the other side is Federal Communications Commission  and its chairman, Ajit Pai, who ignored requests to delay the auction while more studies were done. Pai recently told the Senate Science Committee to ignore what he called faulty data presented by NASA and NOAA at the 11th hour.

In the middle is Congress, which is trying to sort through the conflicting reports as it balances the need to move forward with faster wireless service while protecting the nation for violent weather.

Last week, House Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine “requesting all studies and analyses conducted by NOAA and NASA regarding the impacts of the FCC’s proposed 5G transmissions in the 24 GHz band and the adjacent 23.8 GHz band; a timeline of events; and all documents and communications pertinent to the analyses and recommendations on 5G operations at these bands.

“We remain deeply concerned about the potential for degradation of our Nation’s weather forecasts by interference from spectrum recently auctioned off by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC),” said Chairwoman Johnson and Ranking Member Lucas in the letter. “We noted in our March 13 letter that we are both strong advocates for the adoption of 5G wireless communications, but that advance shouldn’t come at the expense of our ability to protect the lives and property of our citizens from severe weather.”

The letter said that Pai’s assurances that no interference will occur run counter to Congressional testimony by Bridenstine and NOAA Acting Administrator Neil Jacobs. Bridenstine said there was a “very high probability that we are going to lose a lot of data.”

Jacobs said NOAA’s ability to forecast the weather would be degraded by up to 30 percent, setting the agency back 40 years to the capability it had around 1980. “This would result in the reduction of hurricane track forecast lead time by roughly two to three days,” he told the House Environment Subcommittee on May 16.

The letter concludes with a threat of subpoenas if the requested documents are not turned in a timely manner.

“The Committee has been informally asking for these documents for some time. Given the short timelines imposed by outside events, any delays in transmitting these documents to the Committee could result in the Committee resorting to the use of compulsory processes to acquire these documents that are vital to the Committee conducting oversight on this issue,” the letter stated.