Over the objections of federal government agencies, including the Department of Defense, the FCC has unanimously approved Ligado Networks LLC’s license modification request to deploy a nationwide broadband network in the L-band.
After the company worked for nearly a decade to secure Commission approval for its network, the FCC approved an order in a lightning-speed fashion: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai circulated the item last Thursday (TR Daily, April 16), and Commissioners finished voting on it last night, according to several sources. The text of the order was not released by TR Daily’s late-afternoon deadline.
“I thank my colleagues for coming together on a bipartisan basis to support Ligado’s application,” Mr. Pai said in a news release. “The vote at the Commission reflects the broad, bipartisan support that this order has received, from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr on the one hand to Senator Mark Warner of Virginia and Congresswoman Doris Matsui of California on the other. This vote is another step forward for American leadership in 5G and advanced wireless services.”
“The order approving Ligado’s application was adopted without dissent and will promote more efficient and effective use of our nation’s spectrum resources and ensure that adjacent band operations, including the Global Positioning System (GPS), are protected from harmful interference,” the news release said.
“In the order approving Ligado’s application, the Commission included stringent conditions to ensure that incumbents would not experience harmful interference,” the FCC news release added. “For example, the Commission mandated that Ligado provide a significant (23 megahertz) guard-band using its own licensed spectrum to separate its terrestrial base station transmissions from neighboring operations in the Radionavigation-Satellite Service allocation. Moreover, Ligado is required to limit the power levels of its base stations to 9.8 dBW, a reduction of 99.3% from the power levels proposed in Ligado’s 2015 application. The order also requires Ligado to protect adjacent band incumbents by reporting its base station locations and technical operating parameters to potentially affected government and industry stakeholders prior to commencing operations, continuously monitoring the transmit power of its base station sites, and complying with procedures and actions for responding to credible reports of interference, including rapid shutdown of operations where warranted.”
An FCC spokesperson told TR Daily last week that the order would reject employing the 1 dB noise floor increase metric as a way to measure harmful interference. The threshold has been a key issue in the proceeding. Ligado opposes the metric, while GPS advocates support it.
In 2015, LightSquared, Inc. (Ligado’s predecessor company) filed a request to modify licenses to fulfill the conditions in spectrum use agreements it hammered out with GPS equipment makers (TR Daily, Jan. 4, 2016). The company agreed to abandon terrestrial use of the 1545-1555 megahertz band, which is close to GPS operations, while saying it would only deploy in the 1526-1536 MHz, 1627.5-1637.5 MHz, 1646.5-1656.5 MHz, and 1670-1675 and 1675-1680 MHz bands under new technical limits.
Ligado wants the FCC to reallocate and auction the 1675-1680 MHz band, which is used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Last year, the FCC unanimously adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking proposing to reallocate the 1675-1680 MHz band for shared use between incumbent federal entities and non-federal wireless operations (TR Daily, May 9, 2019).
While Messrs. Barr and Pompeo have expressed support for Ligado’s plans, officials at a variety of other federal agencies, including the Defense and Transportation departments, oppose them, saying Ligado’s network would cause harmful interference to GPS operations that federal agencies rely upon. Ligado also has drawn opposition from aviation, satellite, and weather interests that also rely on GPS.
The following agencies have endorsed the position of DoD, which includes the Air Force, the Army, and Navy: the Commerce, Interior, Justice, Homeland Security, Energy, and Transportation departments, including the Coast Guard and the Federal Aviation Administration; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and the National Science Foundation.
Ligado President and Chief Executive Officer Doug Smith said today that the company “thanks the Commissioners for moving promptly to approve the order regarding our applications. We greatly appreciate their unanimous support as well as the expert engineering analysis determining that a terrestrial network can be deployed in the L-band to advance our country’s economic and security interests while fully protecting GPS. Our spectrum can be very instrumental in the transition to 5G, and we look forward to utilizing satellite and terrestrial services to deploy customized private networks and deliver innovative, next-generation IoT solutions for the industrial sector.”
Reed Hundt, a Ligado director and former FCC Chairman, said that approval of the company’s network “will enable greenfield, mid-band spectrum to be deployed in support of an array of advanced 5G networks that are critical to helping maintain and extend American mobile leadership while providing the economic opportunities our country will undoubtedly need in the months and years ahead.”
A DoD official stressed today that DoD’s position “has not changed” from the view it expressed on Friday.
A joint DoD-DoT statement released late Friday said: “Americans rely on our Global Positioning System (GPS) each day for many things: to locate citizens in need of emergency assistance through our E-911 system, to secure our financial system, to order and receive shipments, to travel by car for work and leisure, to facilitate commercial trucking and construction work, and even to make a simple cellphone call. Our Departments rely on GPS each day for all those reasons as well to coordinate tactical national security operations, launch spacecraft, track threats, and facilitate travel by air and sea. The proposed Ligado decision by the Federal Communications Commission will put all these uses of GPS at risk.”
In a statement today, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, DoT’s deputy assistant secretary-research and technology, said, “There is reason for significant concern that the FCC’s approval of the Ligado application could lead to widespread interruptions in essential GPS-dependent services. GPS is used daily by Americans for all forms of transportation, both passenger and freight, in cars, trucks, buses, planes, rail, and ships, as well as modern emergency response systems. The ability to pinpoint the location of police, fire, and other rescue vehicles and effectively to relate their locations to an entire network of transportation systems is critical to the operations of today’s first responders. GPS is the invisible utility we all take for granted, and the Federal government has a duty to public safety to ensure that GPS remains accurate and available.”
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which also opposed the FCC’s grant of Ligado’s request, declined to comment today.
Meanwhile, GPS Innovation Alliance Executive Director David Grossman also criticized the FCC’s order.
The alliance, whose members include major GPS equipment manufacturers, “is deeply disappointed by today's decision, which appears to ignore the well-documented views of the expert agencies charged with preserving the integrity of GPS, specifically on the critical issue of what constitutes harmful interference to users of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS),” Mr. Grossman said in a statement. “GPSIA has consistently advocated for adoption of the 1 dB Standard as the only reliable mechanism that provides the predictability and certainty to ensure the continuation of the GPS success story, with the support of the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation and numerous other federal agencies. The 1 dB Standard for radiofrequency-based services is critical for GNSS. The FCC’s press release refers to conditions placed on Ligado's application to prevent harmful interference and GPSIA and its members intend to carefully review the details of today's order while continuing to vigorously advocate for promoting, protecting and enhancing GPS.”
Aviation Spectrum Resources, Inc. (ASRI), which manages radio communications licensing for the aviation industry in the U.S. and its territories, said today that it “is disappointed that the FCC has apparently decided to move forward with a license grant for a system that has a broad potential to adversely affect many aspects of aviation for the flying public, including safety and operational functions. While ASRI waits for the order to be published and understand exactly what the FCC intends to implement, the substantive number of outstanding questions that Ligado has left unaddressed over the many years means these applications should have been dismissed before getting to this point, let alone advanced to the current stage. The grant also overrides the expert views from pilots, aerospace engineers, GPS manufacturers, airlines, defense manufacturers, satellite operators, and automobile manufacturers, let alone the consistent assessment of relevant expert federal agencies, including FAA, DOD, and DOT.”
Renee Leduc, founder and principal of Narayan Strategy, a consulting firm that had joined with various aviation, weather, and other interests to call on the FCC to reject Ligado’s license modification request (TR Daily, April 16), noted, “The FCC has not yet released the text of its Order. We will have to read the Order to find out exactly what it does. The FCC press statement says that incumbents will be protected by its conditions, however we still don’t know what exactly that entails. As a small business stakeholder in the public/private/academic sector weather enterprise, Narayan Strategy is incredibly concerned about the unusual events that have led the FCC to approve this action. Given Ligado's unreliable record with communicating with the weather enterprise about our valid concerns about their proposed sharing, we are fundamentally concerned since their current proposal will result in interference that will disrupt real-time information from weather satellites that are crucial to severe weather and flood forecasts.”
But supporters of Ligado’s network welcomed the FCC’s action.
“WIA applauds the unanimous and swift approval of Ligado Networks’ spectrum application, and thanks Chairman Pai for his leadership and the entire Commission for its decision,” said Jonathan Adelstein, president and chief executive officer of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, of which Ligado is a member. “Ligado’s proposed L-band use for propelling 5G developments forward is even more critical now during these unprecedented circumstances as mobile connectivity is increasingly relied upon. We look forward to the tangible benefits it will bring to infrastructure investment, deployment, and connectivity for Americans across the country.”
“Pleased to see that @FCC unanimously approved @LigadoNetworks applications to use L-Band spectrum for its mixed satellite/terrestrial system. Should advance #5G and #InternetofThings. It was time to decide and @AjitPaiFCC deserves credit for doing so,” the Free State Foundation tweeted today. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
MainStory: FCC FederalNews SpectrumAllocation Satellites
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