FCC pushes back on Ligado decision despite GPS interference concerns

May 27, 2020  - By

U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit V. Pai has responded to a congressional letter expressing objections to the April 20 FCC decision to allow Ligado to establish a broadband network.

In a May 27 email sent to GPS World, the FCC wrote, “Given your interest in the Ligado order that the Commission adopted unanimously last month, we wanted to share with you the text of the letter Chairman Pai recently sent to members of Congress on this topic.”

The five-member FCC voted unanimously in April to approve an order to allow Ligado Networks to deploy a low-power nationwide 5G network. Experts and policy makers have said the broadband network could — or likely would — interfere with reception of GPS signals.

On May 7, a bipartisan group of 23 members of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) sent a letter to the FCC questioning the decision, and this is the letter the FCC is now responding to.

The letter from Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) says the FCC order did not comply with Section 1698 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017. That act prevents the commission from approving commercial terrestrial operations in certain portions of the L-band spectrum until 90 days after the commission resolves concerns of harmful interference to GPS devices.

The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the topic on May 6 with Department of Defense officials, and on May 15, 32 senators asked the FCC to address their concerns and stay the Ligado approval order while doing so.

“GPS has no right to operate in the spectrum in question, so there is nothing for Ligado to share.” — FCC Chairman Pai

The letter insists that GPS will remain protected. “Although your letter references the shared use of spectrum, the Commission’s L-band decision does not authorize any spectrum sharing between Ligado and GPS. In fact, spectrum in this band has been licensed to Ligado and predecessor companies for over 30 years — with those companies authorized to deploy terrestrially since 2004. And as mentioned above, one of the FCC’s conditions require separation of Ligado’s operations from GPS spectrum by means of a 23-megahertz guard band. Thus, any implication that the Commission has authorized Ligado to “share” spectrum that is currently allocated to GPS is incorrect. GPS has no right to operate in the spectrum in question, so there is nothing for Ligado to share.”

Download the full letter to Rep. Smith here. Download HASC letter to the FCC here.

The email to GPS World included the following statement: “The FCC is required by law to make its decision based on the facts in the record, and federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, were provided with multiple opportunities to put whatever facts they believed to be relevant into the record, including classified information, which the Commission has a process in place to protect.

“The Commission based its decision on all of the information in the record.  Moreover, we are not aware of the FCC refusing any request by the Department of Defense to provide a briefing related to this matter.

“To the extent any federal agency opposed to the Ligado application chose not to share information with the Commission, that was the agency’s decision and suggests that it did not believe that the information in question would bolster its case.”

Photo: Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock.com

Photo: Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock.com

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.