The Ajit Pai FCC has pissed off yet another subset of the population still reliant on factual data.

Scientists and researchers at NASA, NOAA, and the American Meteorological Society (AMS) have been warning that the wireless industry’s use of select bands for 5G could interfere with transmissions of weather-satellite imagery. In a letter (pdf) sent to the FCC last month, warning that the industry’s plan to use 24GHz band could severely hamper weather forecasting. The FCC recently auctioned off spectrum in this band for private companies, but a growing roster of scientists say precautions weren’t taken first:

“NOAA and NASA have conducted studies that show interference in passive collection at the 23.6-24 GHz band from the adjacent 5G band (24.25 GHz); as such it is expected that interference will result in a partial-to-complete loss of remotely sensed water-vapor measurements. It is also expected that impacts will be concentrated in urban areas of the United States first.”

More plainly, water vapor emits radiation at 23.8GHz. Both the NOAA and NASA say monitoring these vapors won’t be possible if the neighboring band is too noisy. Things like hurricane forecasts, they say, could take up to two to three days longer if adequate protections aren’t put in place. There’s far more detail in this recent article in Nature, where academics note that while far more scientific study is needed, the interference potential here is a very real threat.

AT&T and other industry players recently gobbled up spectrum in the band at auction, and have an obvious vested interest in getting the spectrum in place quickly as they look to cash in on fifth generation wireless (5G). This being Ajit Pai, his response to the concerns has been to tell the NOAA, NASA, Navy, and AMS that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Senators have since pressed Pai to provide insight into exactly what his agency did to mitigate the potential harm:

“Explain and provide supporting documentation related to the FCC’s public interest analysis, including any cost-benefit analysis, on the FCC’s emissions limit. In particular, explain how the FCC addressed the costs to taxpayers from the loss of billions of dollars of investment in weather-sensing satellites, the costs to public safety and national security, and to the nation’s commercial activities that rely on this critical weather data.”

As if on cue, representatives of the “American Consumer Institute” (a non-profit pretending to be a consumer advocacy firm but actually backed by big telecom companies) has been pushing editorials trying to claim the problem doesn’t actually exist either, and that the Navy, AMS, NASA, and NOAA are all somehow suffering from some form of scientific delusion. Meanwhile a separate but similar controversy has emerged over the FCC’s plan for the 1675-1680MHz band. There too the American Geophysical Union (AGU), American Meteorological Society (AMS), Boeing, Accuweather, and National Weather Association (NWA) have all been warning the FCC that its spectrum sharing plan for that band could also cause forecasting problems.

It’s yet another example of the discord created when you have a regulatory agency driven by ideology, alternative facts, and a blind fealty to big companies involved in overseeing issues that require nuance, objectivity, and at least a fleeting regard for science and data.