Ligado: No, the Earth isn’t flat

It’s been about four months to the day that the FCC announced it had approved Ligado Networks’ application to deploy a low-power nationwide network in the L-Band to support 5G and IoT services. But the company is still being dogged by Department of Defense (DoD) and other opponents who insist Ligado’s planned use of the spectrum threatens military GPS.

Ligado representatives recently met with the legal advisors to FCC commissioners to discuss how GPS manufacturers and representatives of the aviation community “continue to both misrepresent the record in this proceeding and badly misconstrue the Commission’s April 22, 2020 Order and Authorization.”

Ligado also reviewed a set of documents that discuss how recent filings by the DoD, Department of Transportation (DoT), Department of Commerce (DoC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) “deliberately misstate the effects of Ligado’s operations on GPS,” according to Ligado’s ex parte filings (PDF).

The FCC's order protects GPS devices, and by the way: "No, the Earth Isn’t Flat,” the company said as part of its presentation to the FCC.

The DoD and DoT’s analysis only works if Ligado’s signals end up traveling from its base stations to “each and every GPS device in the United States at full power and with nothing in the way,” the company states. “For this to be true, Ligado’s network would have to exist on a completely flat earth, with no topographical or man-made structures. This is not how RF signals actually travel and it ignores the principles of physics to vastly overstate the impact of those signals on any receiver, including GPS receivers.”

The filing includes photos showing a bare landscape, captioned: "What DoT/DoD Assumes for its NYC Analysis to be True,” alongside a photo of the actual NYC landscape with skyscrapers, captioned: “What NYC Really Looks Like.”

RELATED: FCC OKs Ligado’s L-Band plan amid DoD opposition

In May, the NTIA, on behalf of the executive branch and particularly the DoD and DoT, petitioned the FCC to reconsider or at least clarify its Order and Authorization in the Ligado proceeding. Ligado described NTIA’s request to stop the FCC’s decision from taking effect as “outrageous.”

That same month, Ligado announced more than $100 million in new investments to take the steps to build 5G IoT networks to serve mission-critical industries like public safety, energy and manufacturing. The company had argued before its FCC approval that it was ready to roll as soon as it got the green light.

Last week, the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) determined (PDF) that the FCC’s order approving Ligado’s deployment is not subject to review under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) because it constitutes an “order” rather than a “rule” under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). Presumably, that means Ligado can proceed with its network without Congressional review.

RELATED: Ligado offers immediate opportunity for FCC, Verizon, T-Mobile - analyst

Ligado, formerly known as LightSquared, has 40 MHz of spectrum at 1500 MHz to 1700 MHz in the L-band. Its chairman is Ivan Seidenberg, who served as Verizon’s chairman from 2000-2011. Tim Donahue, the former CEO and president of Nextel Communications, and Reed Hundt, a former FCC chairman, also are on Ligado’s Board of Directors. Hundt also served on Barack Obama’s 2008-2009 presidential transition team.

Iridium, a satellite company led by former Nortel Networks executive Matt Desch, has been a thorn in Ligado’s side for years and continues to lobby the FCC for additional conditions on Ligado. In a filing this week (PDF), Iridium urged the FCC to reduce Ligado’s authorized power level in the 1627.5-1637.5 MHz band to protect Iridium’s satellite communications system. Iridium provides services to the DoD and offers IoT services.  

Some reports suggested the White House withdrew the nomination of FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly because of his vote in the Ligado order – which was unanimous. But New Street Research policy analyst Blair Levin noted in a recent report for investors that the withdrawal was tied to a speech (PDF) the commissioner gave in which he questioned the legal authority of the FCC to act as the White House had requested in the context of regulating social media platforms.