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Editorial roundup: Collected thoughts from around the nation

Of aircraft and 5G

The Wall Street Journal asserts that FAA concerns that a new band of 5G mobile-phone service might interfere with key safety devices on aircraft are overblown and endangering U.S. technology leadership.

U.S. falling behind in 5G tech

Biden Administration officials are crowing that they prevented a collision over 5G wireless spectrum between airlines and wireless carriers that had threatened to ground flights across America this week. But they created this problem, and the mess could endanger U.S. 5G leadership.

Congress charged the Federal Communications Commission with ensuring that wireless spectrum is deployed to balance the interests of different industries while advancing U.S. innovation. With the U.S. trailing China in 5G, former FCC Chair Ajit Pai moved regulatory mountains to free up more spectrum.

The FCC in March 2020 approved the repurposing of C-band spectrum from satellite operators for 5G, with extensive precautions put in place to prevent 5G signal interference with aviation.

Nearly 40 countries operate 5G on C-band spectrum—many at higher power levels or in closer spectral proximity to airplane radio altimeters than what the FCC had proposed — with no instances of interference.

Last January wireless carriers paid $80 billion to the U.S. Treasury for the C-band spectrum and have since spent billions of dollars to deploy it. AT&T and Verizon had planned to light up their spectrum Dec. 5. Yet Biden Administration officials interfered at the last minute, causing a near-crash between wireless carriers and the aviation industry.

Enter Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Steve Dickson, who is eager to redeem the agency after its embarrassment over Boeing’s 737 Max. On Nov. 2, the FAA warned airlines that 5G could interfere with safety instruments. AT&T and Verizon agreed to delay their rollout to Jan. 5.

This didn’t satisfy Mr. Dickson, who warned that the 5G rollout might force the agency to reroute planes in bad weather. As if flying weren’t stressful enough. On New Year’s Eve, the FAA chief and his co-pilot, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, demanded more concessions from the wireless carriers that would effectively cede to the government control over the 5G rollout.

Verizon and AT&T on Sunday rebuffed their demand, offering instead to reduce C-Band power on runways and in the first mile of takeoff or final approach for six months. Yet airlines threatened to file suit, fearing the 5G standoff between their regulators and wireless carriers could disrupt flights.

Dickson and Buttigieg on Monday accepted the wireless carriers’ offer, albeit with a two-week delay supposedly to allow the FAA more time for safety studies. They are likely to demand that this delay be extended. Buttigieg isn’t an expert in aviation or broadband, but he knows that there’s no risk for him in overcaution — and it isn’t his money.

Meanwhile, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel, who had supported the C-band rollout, has for the most part been missing in action. Pai frequently had to assert himself during the Trump presidency when heads of other federal agencies, including the Defense and Transportation departments, encroached on FCC turf. Rosenworcel is failing her first test as chair.

Politicians complain the U.S. is falling behind China in 5G, but dysfunctional government is a big reason.

—The Wall Street Journal

* * *

Tesla ignores China’s human rights abuse

On Dec. 1, Tesla moved its headquarters to Harold Green Road in Austin, officially becoming a Texas company.

On Dec. 23, with the backing of a nearly unanimous House and Senate, President Joe Biden signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, the latest step by the U.S. government to try to interrupt, if not stop, the deplorable campaign against a minority population in the Xinjiang region of China.

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Tesla has opened a showroom in the capital of Xinjiang, with the company issuing a cheery announcement on China’s state-controlled Weibo social media platform that “Tesla (heart) Xinjiang.”

We cheered Tesla moving to Texas and believe its innovative push toward electrifying cars is the future the country and the world need.

But it’s also true that Tesla’s relationship with China points up the concerning ways U.S. companies are entangled with an increasingly brazen and authoritarian government that has no intention of pairing its wealth from open markets with political freedom for its people.

The Chinese government has moved aggressively against companies that have tried to demonstrate moral courage. Intel embarrassed itself just before Christmas with an abject apology after it told suppliers it would not use labor or goods from Xinjiang. It’s not alone. A long list of American companies do business in Xinjiang even as the Biden administration has formally labeled China’s actions in the region genocide.

That might get harder. Companies can now face sanctions under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. They have a burden of proof that their factories and suppliers are not benefiting from slave labor or coerced labor, something that has been credibly documented in Xinjiang.

The question with Tesla is not so much the production of goods, but the willingness to dance to the Chinese government’s tune on Xinjiang. It’s hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, and business as usual follows.

In some ways, that’s just as worrisome as actually doing business there. We need American companies to represent American values abroad. No one is so naïve as to believe that we can simply or quickly disentangle our economy from China’s. The U.S. and Chinese economies are in such a deep symbiotic relationship that even degrees of separation are painful.

But we have to draw boundaries, both governmental and corporate, that demand more from China in return for its admission to the global market. We failed to set and enforce those benchmarks as it became a powerful world player.

Simply acquiescing to its anti-democratic and inhumane policies because that’s how business gets done is not acceptable. Tesla and every other American company should know that and act accordingly.

—The Dallas Morning News

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