DoJ asks court to dismiss Ligado's $40B claim

The U.S. government is asking a federal court to throw out Ligado Networks’ lawsuit that seeks $40 billion from the government over the company’s failed bid to use L-band spectrum for terrestrial purposes.

The suit is tied to the fight between the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the GPS community against Ligado’s proposed use of the spectrum, which they argue would pose serious interference threats to GPS.

Ligado says the DoD just wants the spectrum for its own purposes. The company’s origins trace back to LightSquared, which aimed to build a wholesale nationwide LTE network. After a bankruptcy and restructuring, Ligado emerged as a new company in 2016.  

Ligado’s 2023 lawsuit

In October 2023, Ligado filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims against the United States, the DoD, the Commerce Department and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), seeking compensation for the government’s taking of its spectrum.

In the suit, the company argues that the U.S. government engaged in a scheme to take billions of dollars of Ligado’s property in the form of spectrum rights. On top of that, it alleges, the DoD is using Ligado’s spectrum for its own purposes without compensating Ligado.

Ligado argues that the DoD’s true aim all along was to protect its ongoing use of Ligado’s spectrum for its own purposes and not to protect against harmful GPS interference. The suit cites a DoD whistleblower who revealed internal emails and discussions with high-ranking officials showing government attempts to destroy Ligado in order to use its spectrum without paying.

That’s the suit the U.S. government now wants the court to throw out.

The government’s suit, filed January 25, 2024, in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, said that for decades, Ligado sought approval from the FCC to obtain a modified license to operate a terrestrial network within L-band spectrum when the license previously allowed for only satellite use. For years, federal agencies, including the DoD and NTIA, objected to Ligado’s proposed license modifications on the grounds it could cause harmful interference with GPS, which operates in nearby spectrum bands.

But the FCC in April 2020 granted Ligado’s modified license applications and the order included several terms and conditions intended to mitigate harmful interference with GPS. However, the government entities, including the DoD, still argued that the FCC’s conditions were insufficient for addressing their concerns.

Not long after the FCC’s order, several members of Congress got involved, expressing concerns that Ligado’s terrestrial operations would have harmful effects on GPS.

Flash forward to today, and part of the government’s argument against Ligado is that it doesn’t actually own the L-band spectrum at issue. (It's worth noting that Ligado doesn’t claim that it owns the spectrum, either. But it says that as long as the DoD continues to use the spectrum that Ligado has been authorized to use, Ligado will be unable to use it to launch its FCC-authorized terrestrial 5G communications services.) 

“Ligado’s complaint suffers from several fatal flaws,” starting with the court’s lack of jurisdiction, the government argues. “In sum, because the Communications Act makes clear that a license holder has no ownership interest in spectrum, a license can be modified or revoked by the Government at its discretion, and a license holder has no right to freely transfer the license without Government approval, Ligado cannot establish a cognizable property interest in its FCC license.”

Ligado to fight another fight

Ligado isn’t backing down, reiterating its complaint that government officials deliberately deprived Ligado of its rightfully licensed property and must be held accountable.

“This attack on an American business by the world’s most powerful institution is contrary to the rule of law and antithetical to the government’s years-long support for the deployment of 5G technology as a vital national priority,” Ligado said in a statement. “We worked diligently and in good faith with government agencies to find a fair resolution but were left with no choice but to pursue litigation to defend our interests. We continue to stand firmly behind our complaint and will reply to the government’s motion in the appropriate forum.”