Department of Defense witnesses and some members of the Senate Armed Services Committee blasted the FCC today for its unanimous order last month approving Ligado Networks LLC’s license modification request to deploy a nationwide broadband network in the L-band, saying the decision will result in harmful interference to the Global Positioning System and imperil national defense and economic security. A DoD official said the department would ask the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to petition the FCC to reconsider its order.
But some senators complained that Ligado and the FCC had not been invited to a hearing this afternoon to discuss the order, saying they wanted to hear from them to form an opinion on the controversy.
In its order, the FCC said that its “action provides regulatory certainty to Ligado, ensures adjacent band operations, including Global Positioning System (GPS), are sufficiently protected from harmful interference, and promotes more efficient and effective use of our nation’s spectrum resources by making available additional spectrum for advanced wireless services, including 5G [TR Daily, April 22]. Ligado’s amended license modification applications significantly reduce the power levels of its operations from its earlier proposals and commit Ligado to providing a significant guard-band in the MSS spectrum to further separate its terrestrial transmissions from neighboring operations in the Radionavigation-Satellite Service (RNSS) allocation.” The FCC also cited coordination and other conditions.
The FCC’s action came over the opposition of a number of other federal agencies, including the Transportation, Commerce, Homeland Security, Interior, Energy, and Justice departments, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and National Science Foundation. But Attorney General Bill Barr and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo endorsed it. Ligado also has drawn opposition from aviation, satellite, weather, and other interests that also rely on GPS.
During the hearing, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R., Okla.) argued that Ligado’s network “could be really damaging to our … country.”
“This is a complex issue, but it ultimately boils down to risk. And I do not think it is a good idea to place at risk the GPS signals that enable our national and economic security for the benefit of one company and its investors,” the senator said, noting that a myriad of federal agencies oppose the FCC’s order due to concern about interference to GPS. He also said that the network would “hurt the entire American economy,” noting that farmers, banks, airlines, and others rely on GPS. “Every American uses GPS every day,” he added. Sen. Inhofe also argued that the GPS issue is not related to the deployment of 5G services. “In reality, these two issues are completely separate,” he said.
He complained that the FCC adopted its order on a weekend “in total secrecy,” adding that “they waited till the whole world was distracted … by the virus.” He said 19 senators had signed a letter protesting the FCC’s decision. The senator suggested that the Commission had taken its action with no input, although the agency took multiple rounds of comments during the years-long process.
“We want to get this thing reversed,” the chairman added, without providing details. He said it is unclear whether the Congressional Review Act would apply concerning the Ligado proceeding. As to why the FCC was not invited to testify today, he said, “The FCC is not in our jurisdiction.”
Ranking member Jack Reed (D., R.I.), said, “This is a critical issue for the Defense Department and our nation.”
He said the FCC ignored “the scientific views” of federal agencies and the private sector, and he said the order fails to recognize the complexity of DoD weapons systems.
While the FCC argues that Ligado would be obligated to replace devices, if necessary, to protect against interference, Sens. Inhofe and Reed argued that the burden would realistically be put on taxpayers and the DoD.
“How does a decision like this happen?” asked Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.). She said that while the FCC “bills itself as independent,” “one would also hope that we’re all trying to move in the same direction as part of government.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) asked what witnesses want Congress to do. Retired Adm. Thad Allen, former commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, suggested the issue should be referred to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Sen. Blumenthal asked if an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act would be a way to go.
But some members of the committee said the committee should have let FCC and Ligado representatives testify today.
“We’ve only heard one side of the case,” noted Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.). “There are two sides to this.” Ligado is based in Virginia.
Sen. Kaine and others noted the support of Ligado by AG Barr and Secretary of State Pompeo and asked the DoD witnesses if they knew why they had taken their positions. DoD Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy said he didn’t.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) said the witnesses made a fairly compelling case. But he added that “it’s really important we hear from the unanimous FCC and from Ligado.” He also mentioned the support of Messrs. Pompeo and Barr.
Sen. Angus King (I., Maine) said that the FCC has “capable people” and he noted the order ran 74 pages, adding, “It strikes me that some serious thought went into it.” He also questioned why DoD wants protection for spectrum that is not actually allocated for GPS, as did Sen. David Perdue (R., Ga.). DoD officials said that higher-powered operations too close to GPS would cause interference.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) also said she would have liked to hear from the FCC. She also said that DoD doesn’t need all of its spectrum and, in fact, should give some back.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said that his colleagues who raised questions about the views expressed today raised some good points and he suggested that the FCC should have been invited to testify. “There’s some things we still need to get to,” he said. He said he had not studied the Ligado proceeding until now.
But in his prepared testimony, Michael D. Griffin, DoD’s undersecretary-research and engineering, warned that if the FCC’s order “is allowed to stand, it will undermine both our national defense and economic security.”
“There are two principal reasons for the Department’s opposition to Ligado’s proposal. The first and most obvious is that we designed and built GPS for reasons of national security, reasons which are at least as valid today as when the system was conceived. The second, less well-known, is that the DoD has a statutory responsibility to sustain and protect the system. Quoting from 10 USC 2281, the Secretary of Defense ‘…shall provide for the sustainment and operation of the GPS Standard Positioning Service for peaceful civil, commercial, and scientific uses…’ and ‘…may not agree to any restriction of the GPS System proposed by the head of a department or agency of the United States outside DoD that would adversely affect the military potential of GPS.’
“Leaving entirely aside the national security implications of jamming our own military navigation system, if Ligado moves forward with establishing its network, we in the United States will have imposed a self-inflicted wound on GPS,” Mr. Griffin added. “Though other nations are building or upgrading their own satellite navigation systems, ours is the present world standard and the basis of hundreds of billions of dollars in economic advantage for our nation. While we set out to redesign and refresh hundreds of millions of GPS receivers in our installed national security and industrial base, others, especially Russia and China, will be quick to take advantage of our mistake by offering replacement systems that are not vulnerable to Ligado’s interference. A weakened GPS system offers our adversaries the opportunity to replace the United States as the world standard for satellite navigation. Both Russia and China will jump on that opportunity.”
DoD “is not opposed to sharing the airwaves,” Mr. Griffin stressed. “Indeed, as part of the DoD’s 5G-to-Next G initiative, we will be working alongside industry to test spectrum sharing technologies at military bases around the country, while promoting collaboration across the interagency, academia, and allies to develop, test, and deploy innovative solutions for spectrum sharing. But, as the Chairman and Ranking Member rightly noted in recent statements, Ligado has little to do with 5G. Although Ligado portrays their solution as 5G, there is no evidence that they have a technically viable 5G solution, and they are therefore misrepresenting their offering. Denying Ligado’s petition will not affect the pace at which the nation rolls out 5G technologies and service.”
In his prepared testimony, Mr. Deasy said, “Throughout this proceeding, the Department made it clear that approving Ligado’s plans would cause harmful interference to millions of GPS receivers across the country, both civilian and military.”
“A key area of disagreement is the FCC’s justification that the Order placed ‘stringent conditions’ on Ligado’s network deployment plans to ensure that GPS users would not experience harmful interference,” Mr. Deasy added. “However, these conditions will not protect GPS receivers against harmful interference and are thus unrealistic and unacceptable to the Department. DoD already assessed these requirements during the interagency review process, including evaluation by the PNT EXCOM [Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Executive Committee]. In addition to the work of the PNT EXCOM, extensive and technically rigorous testing and analysis was conducted over the past nine years by DoD, the National Space-Based PNT Engineering Forum, the DoT Adjacent Band Compatibility (ABC) Assessment and Air Force testing of eighty (80) GPS L1 receivers in 2016. These efforts all reached the same conclusion, which is that the Ligado proposal will disrupt GPS.”
Specifically, Mr. Deasy said that a 23 megahertz guard band, reduced Ligado power levels, coordination requirements, and remediation would be insufficient to protect GPS receivers.
“The FCC Order expects Ligado to protect U.S. government GPS receivers and to repair or replace affected receivers identified before Ligado terrestrial operations commence,” the CIO noted. “But this overlooks the classified nature of military GPS use and the sheer number of government receivers and military platforms affected. The FCC expectation is unreasonable and could never be employed in real practice. To avert significant mission impacts, the government would need to undertake unprecedented accelerated testing, modification and integration of new GPS receivers on existing platforms. This is cost and schedule prohibitive and would significantly degrade national security.”
“DoD has conducted a balanced approach to assessing the risks and benefits of new wireless industry proposals. This is why DoD applied technical rigor and vigorous assessment to its conclusions on the Ligado plans. The Ligado proposal and the risks posed to GPS demonstrates that the FCC decision is misguided,” he concluded. “Instead, the Ligado solution causes more harm than good to the nation’s spectrum use. The Department supports the President’s 5G goals, however, we need to ensure that regulatory decisions that increase wireless industry access for cellular networks do not do so at the expense of GPS user requirements. The FCC’s Ligado decision is flawed and must be reversed. As the Committees has so clearly expressed, this is a bad deal for America.”
Gen. John Raymond, chief-space operations for the U.S. Space Force and commander of the U.S. Space Command, said “anything that degrades the effectiveness and reliability of GPS has the ability to prevent military forces from training effectively to maintain readiness; and worse yet, keep us from protecting and serving the public by responding to natural disasters and providing humanitarian assistance, tracking national security threats, and defending the homeland. Transmitters adjacent to the GPS spectrum have significant potential to disrupt and degrade the operation of the approximately 1 million GPS receivers in the Department of Defense (DoD) inventory, and therefore bring harm to military training, readiness, and DoD’s ability to conduct operations. Without solid data about the location of ground-based transmitters and antennas, DoD cannot begin to fully understand and work to mitigate the impact to existing systems, if any mitigation is possible. Changes necessary to combat potential interference from systems operating near the GPS signals could delay the development and deployment of new GPS capabilities for years—and cost billions in U.S. taxpayer investment.”
Among other things, retired Adm. Allen argued that the FCC did not follow its normal process for considering a terrestrial Ligado network. “As evidenced by the past nine-plus years of the Ligado waiver request and subsequent license modification proceeding, it is apparent to me the use of the MSS L-band satellite service spectrum for terrestrial wireless broadband service should have been the subject of a NPRM as normally would be required under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA),” he said.
Messrs. Allen and Griffin also criticized the FCC’s rejection of the 1 dB noise floor increase metric as a way to measure harmful interference. The threshold was a key issue in the proceeding. Ligado opposes the metric, while GPS advocates support it.
During the question-and-answer period, Mr. Deasy and others said that the typical back-and-forth process between executive branch agencies and the FCC on spectrum issues did not occur in the Ligado proceeding.
“At the end of the day, we were completely caught off guard” by adoption of the FCC’s order, Mr. Deasy said. He said DoD had expected that the FCC would reject the Ligado network.
He called the process undertaken by the FCC “unheard of,” saying that DoD officials believe it is the first time the Commission has taken an action that ran counter to a unanimous opinion of federal agencies.
Sen. Cotton asked if there had been testing under the conditions approved by the FCC. Mr. Griffin said there had not.
In a statement today on the hearing, an FCC spokesperson said, “Given all of the untrue statements being made at the hearing, it is difficult to know where to begin. For example, the repeated claim that federal agencies unanimously oppose our order is blatantly false, as our decision has been endorsed by the Secretary of State and Attorney General. Moreover, the Department of Defense (and every executive branch agency that is part of the Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee) was given our draft decision last autumn, so the assertion that they were blindsided by it this April is preposterous. More importantly, nothing said today changes the basic facts that the metric used by the Department of Defense to measure harmful interference does not, in fact, measure harmful interference and that the testing on which they are relying took place at dramatically higher power levels than the FCC approved. The bottom line here is that the FCC made a unanimous, bipartisan decision based on sound engineering principles. We stand by that decision 100% and will not be dissuaded by baseless fearmongering.”
In a letter to the committee today, Ligado also defended the FCC’s order.
The letter, signed by Ligado President and Chief Executive Officer Doug Smith, and Chairman Ivan Seidenberg, also complained that the panel did not invite Ligado or the FCC to testify at the hearing.
“In light of this, we take this opportunity to explain how the FCC’s Order protects GPS, describe the process the FCC has established to ensure that DoD’s concerns are addressed going forward, and clarify the inaccurate characterizations of the FCC’s adjudicative decision,” the letter said.
The company said that the years-long FCC process “has resulted in unprecedented conditions on our company to protect GPS, and we willingly accept those.”
It added that “GPS has long been allocated to spectrum far away from Ligado’s spectrum, specifically, a full 23 megahertz away. And that allocation is also not changed by the recent FCC action. The distance between Ligado and GPS is substantial: guardbands are typically 2-5 megahertz and 23 megahertz is roughly the amount of spectrum needed for four TV stations. The FCC Order ensured that this distance between GPS and Ligado combined with the lower power levels imposed and approved by the FCC affords GPS devices operating in the GPS spectrum a complete defense against interference from Ligado.”
Ligado stressed that “the FCC imposed additional conditions to ensure that GPS devices will continue to be protected from any activity that could affect GPS operations. Specifically, the FCC directed Ligado to provide protections to GPS devices using its spectrum by imposing stringent coordination, cooperation, and replacement obligations on Ligado, so that Ligado bears the burden of ensuring that no device using Ligado’s spectrum will be negatively impacted. Make no mistake: the obligation is ours, and the burden falls solely on our company.”
Ligado also said that during the long process at the FCC, “DoD never filed any technical information or analysis, and at no point did DoD provide information expressing specific technical concerns to the FCC.”
In a tweet today, Free State Foundation President Randolph May also criticized the committee for only inviting witnesses who support DoD’s position on Ligado. “Senate Armed Services Comm. has every right to hold a hearing on @FCC grant of @LigadoNetworks[‘] long-pending license application to use L-Band spectrum. But it's disappointing the hearing is so one-sided. FCC based its decision on its technical expertise, and it should be heard,” he said. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
MainStory: Congress FederalNews FCC SpectrumAllocation WirelessDeployment Satellites
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