Senators make last-minute attempt to quash Ligado spectrum ruling

A bipartisan group of eight senators sent a letter to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel this week asking her to reconsider the order that allows Ligado to proceed with its L-band network.

The letter was signed by U.S. Senators Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).

As Breaking Defense reported, the letter comes as the due date approaches for a Congressionally-mandated report on whether the company’s system will impact GPS for both military and commercial users. The National Academy of Sciences announced this week that it plans to release on September 9 a report evaluating Ligado’s potential impact on GPS and Department of Defense (DoD) activities.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers said they’re extremely concerned that Ligado’s use of the spectrum will cause unacceptable risk to DoD, GPS and satellite communications (SATCOM) operations.

“Staying and reconsidering the Ligado Order is necessary to address the imminent risks associated with Ligado’s intention to ‘commence operations in the 1526-1536 MHz band on or after September 30, 2022,’” the letter states. “We remain gravely concerned that the Ligado Order fails to adequately protect adjacent band operations—including those related to GPS and satellite communications—from harmful interference impacting countless military and commercial activities.”

“We urge you to set aside the Ligado Order and give proper consideration to the widely held concerns across the Executive Branch, within Congress, and from the private sector regarding the expected impact of the Ligado Order on national security and other systems,” the lawmakers added.

In response, Ligado stands its ground, saying it's ready and willing to work with the DoD. 

“After more than a decade of scientific review, the nation’s spectrum experts at the FCC determined the concessions Ligado made and the conditions in the April 2020 FCC Order protect GPS," the company said in response to the letter.

"No concrete evidence to the contrary has been put forth by any private entity or government agency, including the Defense Department, despite repeated requests. If there is an issue DOD is concerned about, the best way to resolve it is for the DOD and Ligado to work through those issues as soon as possible, as the FCC Order requires and as Congress has mandated. The science and facts support the FCC’s unanimous, bipartisan decision to grant Ligado’s spectrum, and if there are DOD GPS receivers operating in our licensed spectrum that need to be upgraded, Ligado is ready to do so.”

The Ligado saga is one of the many in which branches of the U.S. government have clashed with the FCC.

In Ligado’s case, it received the FCC’s blessing in 2020 after years of back and forth with the GPS community and amid major pushback from the DoD. In fact, the National Information and Telecommunications Administration (NTIA) petitioned the FCC to stay and reopen the case, a move the FCC rejected in 2021.  

The FCC and NTIA are supposed to be working a lot more closely to hammer out spectrum issues. Rosenworcel and NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson struck an agreement that includes regularly scheduled meetings, at least quarterly, to coordinate on spectrum issues. The NTIA is in charge of handling spectrum for federal government users.

Last week, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., upheld the FCC’s prior decision when it comes to the 5.9 GHz band after transportation officials appealed. That was seen by some as a reinforcement of the FCC’s spectrum decision-making authority – it’s tasked with determining the highest and best use of spectrum for commercial deployments.