GPSIA supports bipartisan RETAIN Act

August 3, 2021  - By
J. David Grossman, executive director, GPSIA

J. David Grossman, executive director, GPSIA

Guided by the leadership of the U.S. Air Force, and now the Space Force, for four decades GPS has supported all aspects of military operations, from precision guided munitions to search and rescue missions. GPS, however, is also ingrained in our economy, enabling a wide range of civil and consumer applications, including aviation, precision agriculture, construction, banking and public safety.

It’s easy to take GPS for granted, because we use it every day and it works so well. But what if someone interfered with the reliability and accuracy of GPS on which we depend? A 2019 study sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) estimated a $1 billion-a-day impact to our economy if GPS were lost.

Regrettably, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rolled the dice on this scenario in 2020, when it approved an application from Ligado Networks, a satellite communications company, to repurpose satellite spectrum in the L-band for high-power terrestrial use.*

Ignoring the warnings of a broad coalition of stakeholders, including U.S. federal agencies, congressional leaders and businesses, the FCC moved to open the traditionally “quiet neighborhood” used by satellite-based navigation services like GPS to ground-based signals that are billions of times more powerful.

The FCC itself was clear on the risks when it issued the order, and so it’s no surprise they explicitly required Ligado to “repair or replace as needed any U.S. government GPS devices that experience harmful interference from Ligado’s operations.” At the time, however, a key constituency was excluded from these protections: the millions of U.S. consumers and businesses who rely on accurate, reliable GPS signals.

In fact, 99% of the more than 900 million GPS devices found in the United States are used by the private sector, consumers, as well as state and local governments. Under the FCC’s order, first responders, pilots, municipal governments, farmers and countless other GPS users have been left on the hook for costs associated with Ligado’s disruptions.

On June 22, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), took a critical step toward addressing this inequality by introducing the Recognizing and Ensuring Taxpayer Access to Infrastructure Necessary for GPS and Satellite Communications Act (RETAIN Act). A bipartisan House companion bill was subsequently introduced on July 22. This carefully balanced proposal ensures that Ligado, as the license holder and source of interference, is the one responsible for paying the costs to upgrade or replace affected GPS receivers used by consumers and businesses.

Across the country, GPS is woven into the fabric of the economy and people’s everyday lives. More than 100 million vehicles are equipped with a GPS receiver, and trains and aircraft use GPS to move people and goods. Our farms depend on GPS to increase crop yields and reduce waste. Similarly, with accurate and reliable GPS,

America’s bridges, and roads are being built more accurately, improving safety, and reducing construction times.
The RETAIN Act also protects municipal fire crews that depend on GPS for improved situational awareness and to speed response times to people in danger. In the critical moments between a 911 call and the arrival of firefighters, seconds matter. An unexpected loss of GPS could therefore be catastrophic. This is why GPSIA and more than 100 industry organizations and companies are supporting the RETAIN Act.

The RETAIN Act also considers the thousands of businesses that are showcasing their grit and ingenuity to bounce back from the COVID pandemic. Many of these companies are implementing GPS-enabled solutions, including app-based delivery and contact-tracing tools to increase efficiency and protect the safety of their employees.

The GPS Innovation Alliance, an organization committed to furthering GPS innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship, is grateful to these leaders in Congress who are standing up in support of GPS users.

  • Consistent with the terms of their litigation settlements with Ligado, Garmin International Inc. and Deere & Company do not affirmatively endorse or oppose the deployment of Ligado’s proposed mobile communications network. To the extent this op-ed discusses Ligado’s deployment of its proposed 5G mobile communications network (or any interference therefrom), GPSIA is not authorized, and does not purport, to speak for Garmin and Deere.

About the Author: J. David Grossman

J. David Grossman serves as executive director of the GPS Innovation Alliance (GPSIA), an organization dedicated to protecting, promoting and enhancing the use of GPS. Prior to joining GPSIA, Grossman spent nearly a decade in public service, including as chief of staff to FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn; legislative director and senior advisor for technology policy to Rep. Anna Eshoo of Silicon Valley; and as technology counsel to the U.S. House Small Business Committee under the leadership of Rep. Nydia Velázquez. Grossman holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from George Mason University and a B.A. in Political Communication from George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.