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32 US senators urge FCC to reconsider Ligado spectrum order

A bipartisan group of 32 U.S. senators on Friday urged the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider a decision to allow Ligado Networks to deploy a low-power nationwide mobile broadband network, saying it could pose severe risks to global positioning systems crucial to military operations.

The letter, led by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, a Republican, and ranking Democrat Jack Reed, follows a hearing in which Pentagon leaders argued the decision may result in businesses turning to Russian- or Chinese-based space navigation systems to replace GPS.

The letter to all five FCC commissioners called on them to halt and reconsider the decision and “more fully consider the technical concerns raised by numerous federal agencies and private sector stakeholders.”

A spokesman for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said “any allegation that the Commission moved too quickly in making a decision on this matter is preposterous. The commission imposed stringent conditions on Ligado to ensure that its operations would not interfere with GPS… The bottom line remains that the FCC made a unanimous, bipartisan decision based on sound engineering principles, and we stand by that decision.”

Ligado said on Friday that “the Department of Defense, its contractors, and their special interest lobbyists have blanketed the Hill to spread misinformation and distort the exhaustive, engineering, and fact-driven process that the FCC, under two administrations, led. GPS will not be harmed.”

The spectrum block Ligado wants to tap is in the L-Band, which is also home to spectrum used by GPS systems, which are used by the military, businesses and consumers. Ligado notes there would be an unused band between the GPS and mobile network spectrum to prevent interference, but the military is not satisfied.

The FCC’s 5-0 vote on April 20 came despite objections from many other federal agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration, and major U.S. airlines.

The FCC has defended its decision, saying it included stringent conditions aimed at ensuring GPS systems would not experience harmful interference. It has won backing from U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Ligado, the wireless satellite venture formerly known as LightSquared Inc that emerged from bankruptcy in 2015, has been working for years to deploy a network using spectrum to help telecom companies deploy next-generation 5G wireless networks. Ligado says the spectrum is crucial for wide-scale 5G deployment because it can be used for in-building penetration and greater coverage at lower costs.

Ligado says it has gone to great lengths to prevent interference and will provide six months notice before deploying the system, “have a 24/7 monitoring capability, a hotline, a stop buzzer or kill switch” and will “repair or replace at Ligado’s cost any government device shown to be susceptible to harmful interference.”


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