Outgoing FCC Chairman Pai: Commission Needs to “Stand Its Ground” on 6 GHz
Wednesday, January 20, 2021 | Comments

Outgoing FCC chairman said that as the presidential administrations change, the new FCC leadership needs to “stand its ground” on recent FCC spectrum decisions, such as allowing unlicensed use in the 6 GHz band.

“In the near-term, the FCC must hold its ground,” Pai said in a January 14 speech to the Information Technology Industry Council. “… Interested parties will likely use change in administrations as an opportunity to relitigate settled disputes like the 5.9 GHz and 6 GHz rules, the L-band and perhaps even the C-band. If we are to preserve the value this FCC delivered to American consumers, the agency’s new leadership will have to be willing to withstand pressure from the voices who are always going to say, ‘No.’”

Pai stepped down from the chairman position on January 20, Inauguration Day for President-Elect Joseph Biden. In April, the FCC approved new rules that allowed unlicensed use in the 6 GHz band. Prior to that, the band was mostly used for critical microwave links for public-safety and critical infrastructure entities.

The FCC’s new rules allow unlicensed use of standard power devices subject to automatic frequency coordination (AFC), and low-power devices in indoor locations.

Numerous public-safety and critical infrastructure entities appealed the decision to the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit. The groups recently asked the court to remand the order back to the FCC to include more safeguards against interference for the critical microwave links.

The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International argued that there was not enough evidence to show that the AFC technology could prevent interference to critical communications. All of the organizations on the lawsuit said they have concerns about allowing low-power devices, which are not subject to AFC because they are only allowed indoors. The organizations argued that it will be tough to ensure the indoor devices are only used indoors and to track interference caused by those devices.

In his speech, Pai said that the commission also considered allowing very low power devices in the band, but reports from commission engineers determined that the FCC did not have the foundation in the record to allow such use.

“We worked the problem as hard as we could,” Pai said. “But the advice I got from the engineering experts on our career staff was that we just did not yet have a sufficient foundation in the record in order to safely move forward. That’s disappointing to some — me included — but it was the right decision. I hope further study enables the FCC to move ahead in the future.”

Pai touted the amount of spectrum that decisions such as the 6 GHz one have opened up to help meet demand for LTE and future technologies such as 5G.

“By opening the whole 6 GHz band for unlicensed, we are creating a massive 1,200 megahertz testbed for innovators and innovation,” Pai said. “To put this in context, we effectively increased the amount of mid-band spectrum available for Wi-Fi by almost a factor of five.”

Pai said that he thinks the 6 GHz band will become a key part of the future wireless ecosystem.

“Ultimately, I expect that 6 GHz unlicensed devices will become part of consumers’ everyday lives,” he said. “And I predict our decision will play a major role in the growth of the internet of things (IoT), connecting appliances, machines, meters, wearables, smart televisions and other consumer electronics, as well as industrial sensors for manufacturing. It’ll also mean big improvements for gaming, augmented and virtual reality, fixed wireless broadband service and more.”

On January 20, his final day in office, Pai released a statement looking back on his eight years of service as an FCC commissioner.

“Serving the American people as chairman of the FCC has been the greatest honor of my professional life,” Pai said in the statement. “Over the past four years, we have delivered results for the American people, from narrowing the digital divide to advancing American leadership in 5G, from protecting consumers and national security to keeping Americans connected during the pandemic, from modernizing our media rules to making the agency more transparent and nimble. It has been a privilege to lead the agency over its most productive period in recent history.”

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