Key senators are again pushing to reverse the FCC ruling on the Ligado spectrum | Panda Anku

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WASHINGTON — A group of eight senators has resumed the long-simmering fight to overturn a 2020 Federal Communications Commission decision that gave wireless company Ligado spectrum rights — rights that the Department of Defense and other government organizations say endanger the use of GPS would.

The renewed push comes just over a month before Ligado expects to launch its network, and just weeks before the due date for a congressional-mandated report on whether the company’s system actually impacts GPS for both military and commercial use users will have.

In a letter issued Wednesday to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, senators urged the FCC to “stay and reconsider its earlier decision.” “We remain extremely concerned that terrestrial L-band operations would pose an unacceptable risk to the Department of Defense (DOD), the federal government’s Global Positioning System (GPS) and satellite communications (SATCOM) operations,” they said senators.

The letter was authored by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Reed, DR.I., and senior member, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., neither of whom are alien to the Ligado case, which is the national security community in turmoil and split the Trump administration.

The two SASC leaders successfully advanced language in the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act designed to make the Ligado network more difficult to implement, including requiring a thorough and independent review by the DoD-funded National Academy of Sciences, Engineering , and Medicine.

According to the National Academies website, “The review will consider how best to assess harmful interference to civilian and military users of GPS, the potential for harmful interference to GPS users and DOD activities, and the effectiveness and feasibility of mitigation measures proposed in the FCC.” can order.” The results of that review are scheduled to be released Sept. 9. (Interestingly, for FY21, the NDAA also requested that the US Department of Defense provide Congress with a list of affected GPS receivers and estimate the cost — a report, which, when finished, will not be released to the public.

In addition, three members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which oversees the FCC, signed the recent letter: Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Dan Sullivan , R -Alaska. This is significant because then-Chairman of the Commerce Committee, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., essentially sided with the FCC’s decision during the first round of the Ligado debate. Wicker, now the senior member of that committee, is widely expected to chair the SASC (Inhofe is retiring) when Republicans take control of the Senate after the midterm elections.

“We have and received [are] Check the letter,” an FCC spokesman succinctly responded to Breaking Defense’s request today.

Ligado has a history of regularly dismissing criticism that it overstates the potential for interference, insisting that it has made an effort to work with users to mitigate potential issues.

“After more than a decade of scientific review, the country’s spectrum experts at the FCC have identified the concessions Ligado has made and the conditions in the April 2020 FCC rule protecting GPS. Despite repeated requests, no concrete evidence to the contrary has been presented by any private entity or government agency, including the Department of Defense,” a company spokesman said in a statement.

“If there is an issue that the DOD is concerned about, the best way to resolve it is for the DOD and Ligado to resolve those issues as quickly as possible, as required by FCC regulation and as Congress requires ordered. The science and facts support the FCC’s unanimous, bipartisan decision to grant Ligado’s spectrum, and if our licensed spectrum operates DOD GPS receivers that need upgrading, Ligado stands ready to do so.”

The previous case

The Department of Defense and many other agencies, including the Department of Transportation, have opposed the proposed Ligado network (formerly LightSquared) for nearly a decade. The agencies, as well as many users in the commercial sector such as aviation, have been vocal in arguing that the power levels of the L-band signals Ligado intends to use in its cell towers, normally reserved for satellites, will interfere with GPS satellite receivers.

Ligado has also vehemently denied the Pentagon’s claims in numerous filings with the FCC – claiming that they are based on outdated Air Force tests and technically flawed assumptions. And former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, wholeheartedly agreed with the firm both in his written decision in 2020 and at numerous Capital Hill hearings.

On April 20, 2020, the FCC unanimously voted to approve Ligado’s spectrum license, with approval from all five commissioners from both political parties. The backlash was quick, but the months of contentious public debate essentially died down after a January 19, 2021 FCC vote rejecting a National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) petition to stay and reopen the case. The NTIA coordinates the use of spectrum by US government agencies, including DoD.

With the change in administration and Roscenworcel’s appointment as FCC chairman, anti-Ligado hopes were raised slightly – as Roscenworcel said during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in June 2020 that she would personally support a stay of the decision, to re-examine the arguments. So far, however, no decision has been made.

In fact, the topic has largely slipped out of the limelight. Perhaps the most notable comments on this came last December when Caitlin Durkovich, The National Security Council director for response and resilience suggested that the NSC and the White House could weigh the Ligado issue, citing the Biden administration’s concerns about its impact.

GPS is “still a significant single point of failure in our country,” she told a Dec. 9 meeting of the National Space-based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Advisory Board. However, Durkovich noted at the time that any discussion with the FCC would have to wait until there was a full list of commissioners. Currently there are only four out of five: two Democrats and two Republicans.

Additionally, confirmation of the Biden administration’s fifth-seat candidate, Gigi Sohn, has stalled in the Senate for months. Sohn, a Democrat, has been a vocal advocate of net neutrality and has raised Republican concerns about it. (The FCC, as an independent agency created by Congress, has no legal obligation to the White House.)

The NSC did not respond to a request for comment.

Ligado’s Progress

Meanwhile, in January, Ligado announced a deal with Select Spectrum to sell access to its licensed spectrum for use by private wireless networks such as those used by utility companies. This comes after years of speculation among players in the spectrum market that the company had hoped to sell mid-band spectrum to a major public provider like AT&T or Verizon rather than run its own network.

The company has long countered these speculations and has announced that it will roll out its own 5G operational network at the end of September.

“Ligado is making rapid progress in preparing its L-band spectrum for 5G, including the standardization of frequency bands through 3GPP,” the company’s website reads. “We are also working closely with ecosystem partners such as device manufacturers, chipset providers, base station providers and other ecosystem providers to ensure a wide range of hardware is compatible with L-Band.”

For example, in June the company announced an agreement with Nokia to “develop 5G base station radios compatible with Ligado’s L-band spectrum.”

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