TR Daily McMorris Rodgers Blasts Ligado Language in NDAA
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Friday, December 4, 2020

McMorris Rodgers Blasts Ligado Language in NDAA

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.), the incoming ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, today blasted provisions in the conference agreement for the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (HR 6395) addressing the FCC’s unanimous Ligado Networks LLC order (TR Daily, April 20). But a GPS coalition welcomed the legislation.

"I do not support the provisions in the NDAA that discuss the FCC’s decision to grant more flexible use of the L-Band spectrum for Ligado, especially banning contracts with no evidence to support they harm national security," Rep. McMorris Rodgers said in a statement. "The NDAA shouldn't target an American company that will hurt our ability to beat China in the 5G race. Why single out an American company focused on boosting our country’s 5G leadership but leave out protections against Chinese drone manufacturers threatening our national security? This should be made right.

"I agree with my colleagues on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees that we must protect the Department of Defense’s mission and ability to keep America safe. The same should go for the Federal Communications Commission, the expert, independent agency on commercial spectrum issues. By a 5-0 unanimous vote they determined Ligado’s proposal would not create problems of harmful interference with commercial users in neighboring bands or other government agencies, like DOD. This came after a decade of exhaustive FCC technical reviews and extensive conditioned safeguards," the congresswoman added.

"If we are going to beat the Chinese Communist Party in the race to 5G, we should let the FCC do its job and stop these interagency fights not rooted in facts," she added. "As Republican Leader on Energy and Commerce next Congress, I’ll aggressively fight to ensure America has the global competitive edge in 5G—not just for our economy but for our national security too. To win the future, I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Armed Services Committee on those shared goals," Ms. McMorris Rodgers said.

But the Keep GPS Working Coalition said in a statement released last night that it "applauds this year’s NDAA, which includes important provisions addressing the potential for interference to GPS caused by the use of the L-Band spectrum owned by Ligado Networks. The inclusion of these provisions signals a clear understanding by Congress that preventing GPS interference is a matter of safeguarding our national security. First and foremost, the legislation provides for a thorough, independent review of the Federal Communications Commission decision allowing Ligado to operate its planned terrestrial wireless network.

"The FCC’s Ligado order, which relies heavily on inaccurate and incomplete technical submissions by Ligado, was issued despite national and economic security concerns raised by the Department of Defense, along with the Departments of Commerce, Interior, Justice, Homeland Security, Energy and Transportation, as well as NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Coast Guard and the Federal Aviation Administration," the coalition added. "Independent review is an important first step in ensuring that Ligado’s operations will not damage the nation’s critical GPS based infrastructure or the hundreds of millions of GPS devices used in critical activities. This review and the other NDAA provisions included will also help ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place to hold Ligado accountable for all costs to U.S. taxpayers, businesses and consumers that will result from these operations."

Ligado had no comment today.

The provisions in the NDAA do not bar Ligado from moving ahead to deploy its nationwide broadband network.

A key change from the versions of the NDAA that originally passed the House and Senate is the addition of "harmful" before mentions of interference, which is the FCC’s standard.

The measure would prohibit DoD from using funds to comply with the FCC order until the secretary of Defense submits a cost estimate regarding GPS interference. The secretary also would have to contract with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine for a technical review of the Commission’s order.

The bill also would prohibit DoD from entering into contracts or extending or renewing contracts with commercial terrestrial operators in the 1525-1559 or 1626.5-1660.5 megahertz bands unless DoD certifies to Congress that the operations don’t cause harmful interference to any DoD GPS devices.

An unrelated spectrum section of the NDAA bill would require DoD to develop a plan to transition 5G technology "to operational use" in the department. The plan would be due by Sept. 30, 2021. DoD also would have to carry out a 5G technology demonstration project.

The legislation also includes language, with some modifications, from several communications bills that have been introduced separately.

They are the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement (READI) Act, which aims to improve emergency alerts; legislation addressing 5G supply chain and multilateral security issues; the Spectrum IT Modernization Act, which would require the National Telecommunication and Information Administration to submit to Congress a plan to modernize its information technology systems for managing spectrum; and the Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things (DIGIT) Act, which would require the Department of Commerce to convene an interagency working group to study IoT issues.

The language for the 5G supply chain bill, which would establish a Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund and Multilateral Telecommunications Security Fund, would eliminate the $25 million that would have been authorized for the Multilateral Telecommunications Security Fund.

"When an emergency strikes, the public needs to know in a timely and effective manner," said Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), chairman of the Senate communications, technology, innovation, and the Internet subcommittee who introduced the READI Act with subcommittee ranking member Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii). "The READI Act addresses a number of emergency alert system issues to improve the reliability of potentially lifesaving communications. I’m glad this legislation was included in the annual defense bill, and I want to thank Sen. Schatz for his leadership on this critical issue."

The NDAA does not include a provision to eliminate section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, despite President Trump’s threats to veto the bill if the provision is not in the legislation (TR Daily, Dec. 2). The president also has said that he would veto the bill if it changes the names of bases named after Confederate leaders. Congress is expected to consider the legislation next week. —Paul Kirby, [email protected]

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