FCC Regulatory Process: Safety is Just One Consideration

Many people believe that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) focuses primarily on public safety considerations when developing regulations to address radio spectrum allocation issues. But, in reality, the regulatory development process often devolves into a debate over competing interests, with safety being just one factor that’s considered.

This perspective is shared in detail in an insightful article published in late May on the IEEE Spectrum website, written by Mitchell Lazarus, an engineer and telecommunications attorney.

While the FCC’s established rulemaking process appears open and transparent, Lazarus argues that extensive engineering studies submitted by both proponents and opponents of new frequency usage and allocations are often based on different assumptions about transmitter and receiver characteristics and the interaction between the two. As a result, these opposing perspectives can produce significant differences in the results.

Further, according to Lazarus, study outcomes rarely result in a “binary yes/no,” but “as differing probabilities for various degrees of interference.” As a result, the FCC is faced with the task of evaluating a range of conflicting uncertainties, typically leading to a solution that attempts to balance both sides of the dispute, with safety just one of several considerations.

Lazarus cites several examples of the regulatory process complexity. These include the recent debate over whether the widespread introduction of 5G services could interfere with aircraft radar altimeters, putting planes and their passengers at risk. He also discusses in detail the controversy over the FCC’s proposal to add Wi-Fi to the 6-GHz band, and the basis for the differing conclusions offered by proponents and opponents of the proposal.

Read the complete text of the IEEE Spectrum article on how the FCC addresses regulatory challenges.

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