FCC Chairman Ajit Pai today circulated a draft order that would approve with conditions Ligado Networks LLC’s controversial license modification request to deploy a terrestrial broadband nationwide network in the L-band, marking a significant step in a nearly decade-long effort.
If the FCC approves the planned wholesale network, it would be over the opposition of federal agencies, including the Defense Department, which argue that Ligado’s network would cause harmful interference to Global Positioning System operations relied upon by the military and other government entities as well as the private sector. Ligado also has drawn opposition from aviation, satellite, and weather information interests that also rely on GPS.
“After many years of consideration, it is time for the FCC to make a decision and bring this proceeding to a close,” Mr. Pai said in a news release. “We have compiled an extensive record, which confirms that it is in the public interest to grant Ligado’s application while imposing stringent conditions to prevent harmful interference. The draft order that I have presented to my colleagues would make more efficient use of underused spectrum and promote the deployment of 5G and Internet of Things services.
“Although I appreciate the concerns that have been raised by certain Executive Branch agencies, it is the Commission’s duty to make an independent determination based on sound engineering,” Mr. Pai added. “And based on the painstaking technical analysis done by our expert staff, I am convinced that the conditions outlined in this draft order would permit Ligado to move forward without causing harmful interference. For example, the draft order would authorize downlink operations at a power level that represents a greater than 99% reduction from what Ligado proposed in its 2015 application.”
The news release added, “In recent years, Ligado has amended its application to significantly reduce the power levels of its base stations from 32 dBW to 9.8 dBW (a reduction of 99.3%). Ligado has also committed to providing a significant (23 megahertz) guard-band using its own licensed spectrum to further separate its terrestrial base station transmissions from neighboring operations in the Radionavigation-Satellite Service allocation. As such, Ligado is now only seeking terrestrial use of the 1526-1536 MHz, 1627.5-1637.5 MHz, and 1646.5-1656.5 MHz bands. The Order is conditioned to reflect these technical requirements.”
The news release added that the order would also require “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.”
The news release did not provide other technical details in the draft order, but an FCC spokesperson told TR Daily that it 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.
“I appreciate Chair @AjitPaiFCC circulating an item on a long pending issue. As always, I will read and vote quickly,” Commissioner Mike O’Rielly tweeted today.
Last December, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration said that it couldn’t recommend that the FCC grant Ligado’s license modification request, citing concerns by the departments of Defense and Transportation and other federal agencies about the impact of the company’s planned broadband network on GPS operations (TR Daily, Dec. 9, 2019).
Last week, NTIA submitted to the FCC supplemental materials reiterating the executive branch’s view of the Ligado applications, including a March 24 letter from Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and a Feb. 14 memorandum from the Air Force to the chairman of the Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee (IRAC) (TR Daily, April 13). In his letter, Mr. Norquist said, “Approval of the Ligado application would adversely affect the military potential of GPS and the Department of Defense is strongly opposed.”
The following IRAC members endorsed the position of DoD, including 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.
“NTIA notes that in a 2011 Order and Authorization, the Commission's International Bureau declared that its processes for authorizing then-LightSquared to commence commercial operations on its MSS L-band frequencies would be complete only ‘once the Commission, after consultation with NTIA, concludes that the harmful interference concerns have been resolved.’ We believe the Commission cannot reasonably reach such a conclusion,” Douglas Kinkoph, NTIA’s associate administrator-Office of Telecommunications and Information Applications who is performing the delegated duties of the NTIA administrator, said in the letter submitted last Friday in IB dockets 11-109 and 12-340.
LightSquared, Inc., Ligado’s predecessor company, filed a request for modification of its MSS (mobile satellite service)-ATC (ancillary terrestrial component) license in 2010.
In 2012, the FCC’s International Bureau moved to vacate LightSquared’s conditional authorization and indefinitely suspend its ATC authority in the wake of NTIA’s recommendation at that time that LightSquared’s LTE network couldn’t operate as planned without causing harmful interference to government GPS receivers (TR Daily, Feb. 14, 2012).
In 2015, LightSquared filed a request to modify the 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 MHz 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 the new technical limits.
Ligado also 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).
While major GPS equipment makers agreed to spectrum agreements with Ligado, they disagreed with Ligado’s argument that use of the 1 dB noise floor increase metric was not an accurate way to measure harmful interference and that the FCC should instead approve use of key performance indicators (KPIs).
“We commend Chairman Pai for his leadership and his vision, and we look forward to engaging with the other Commissioners to drive this process forward,” Ligado President and Chief Executive Officer Doug Smith said in a statement today. “Since the very beginning of its long, comprehensive and collaborative analysis of the technical issues presented by Ligado’s application, the FCC’s dedicated staff has repeatedly shown its commitment to science-based, engineering-driven decision making, and Chairman’s Pai’s circulation of the Order regarding our license modification applications is the most recent example of this.
“The central importance of mid-band – especially our lower mid-band – to 5G is well-known,” Mr. Smith added. “As Ericsson and Nokia technical studies on our proposed network deployment have shown, the superior propagation characteristics of our spectrum will improve mobile 5G coverage – both outdoor and indoor – and in doing so, accelerate the deployment of 5G networks. Ligado is committed to the twin goals of protecting GPS while delivering highly secure and ultra-reliable communications to accelerate next-generation technologies and the Industrial Internet of Things. We urge the FCC to work together now to make this a reality as soon as possible.”
Ligado Chairman Ivan Seidenberg said, “I have always believed that the L-Band spectrum can make a meaningful difference in our nation’s ability to connect. There is no doubt that lower mid-band has a key role to play if we are to build the very best 5G networks, and it is clear now more than ever that we must do just that. The FCC’s decision to move the approval process forward is an important and forward-looking one that will advance the public interest and U.S. global leadership.”
A DoD official today said that its opposition to the Ligado request has not changed. DoT reiterated its opposition to the Ligado proposal, with DoT citing NTIA’s letter to the FCC last December that referred to agencies concluding that “’proposals to operate services in bands adjacent to GPS should not be approved unless, at a minimum, they do not exceed the tolerable power transmission limits’” detailed in a DoT report on adjacent-band coexistence.
The FAA, which is part of DoT, had no comment on the circulation of the draft order, nor did NTIA.
The GPS Innovation Alliance had no comment.
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 “and the wider aviation community continue to oppose the proposals by Ligado that would create lasting damage to GPS, SATCOM and weather systems relied upon by all aviation users, including, not least, the traveling public. Ligado has been unable to answer the many and repeated questions on aviation safety issues, including how they would protect emergency helicopter operations from interference to critical GPS-dependent navigation systems, or ensure aviation safety SATCOM will continue to operate reliably. The FCC moving forward without these critical matters addressed will create a lasting impact to aviation operations and safety, especially with the number of unknowns that still exist in Ligado’s’ plans.”
The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) said, “New technology is vital to America’s economy, national security, and to our aerospace and defense industry. However, the government has a responsibility to help ensure it is deployed in a way that does not jeopardize the work of our armed forces or the safety of the American people. Today’s announcement disregards the serious concerns raised by various government agencies about the harmful impacts to GPS. We urge the FCC to reject the Chairman’s proposal and adequately protect the GPS network that underpins our nation’s military operations and the safety of our airspace.”
In an ex parte filing today, ASRI, AIA and 20 other entities asked the FCC to reject Ligado’s applications and close the pending dockets. “Given the tortured history of this proceeding and the current state of the record, the Commission and all parties concerned would be best served by starting with a clean slate, including Ligado itself,” the parties argued. “The dockets related to the Ligado proceeding should be closed and Ligado’s pending applications should be dismissed. To the extent that Ligado desires to file new applications to fit some new business vision that is consistent with its existing authority, it of course may do so.”
In addition to ASRI and AIA, the following entities signed onto the filing: the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Airlines for America, Cargo Airline Association, Delta Air Lines, Inc., FedEx Corp., General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Helicopter Association International, JetBlue Airways, Iridium Communications, Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp., Microcom Environmental, Narayan Strategy, National Air Carrier Association, National Air Transportation Association, NENA, Satcom Direct, Satelles, Semaphore Group, Skytrac, and Southwest Airlines Co.
But supporters of Ligado’s requested relief also welcomed Mr. Pai’s circulation of an order.
“I am pleased to see Chairman Pai circulate a draft order to finally allow for commercial deployments in the L Band,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner (D., Va.). “Throughout the history of commercial mobile communications, the U.S. has been solutions-oriented, favoring evidence-based testing and technology innovation to promote efficient spectrum usage. As the U.S. works to lead the world in 5G innovation – and as we work to promote wider coverage here in the U.S.—it’s all the more important to ensure valuable mid-band spectrum is put to use. Ligado, a Virginia company, has endured years of back-and-forth as the issue has been studied and re-studied. I encourage the Commission to approve this draft order expeditiously.”
“I applaud @AjitPaiFCC and the @FCC for taking action to unlock vital L-Band spectrum that has been held hostage by bureaucratic slow-walking for far too long. Jobs and 5G is a win-win for the country,” Rep. Billy Long (R., Mo.) tweeted today.
“I applaud FCC Chairman Pai's proposal to make available L-band spectrum, to be used together with C-band spectrum, for deployment of advanced wireless services, including 5G,” said Attorney General Bill Barr, who recently touted the potential of Ligado’s proposed network. “As I said in my speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, swift FCC action on spectrum is imperative to allow for the deployment of 5G. This is essential if we are to keep our economic and technological leadership and avoid forfeiting it to Communist China. Freeing up L-band spectrum for use in tandem with the C-band, as the Chairman proposes, should greatly reduce the cost and time it will take to deploy 5G throughout the country and would be a major step toward preserving our economic future. I hope the full Commission moves forward quickly.”
“We're pleased to see that the FCC has managed to cut through the red tape to make a decision on Ligado,” said Tom Power, senior vice president and general counsel of CTIA, which counts Ligado as a member. “This multi-year process reveals the challenges at play in our nation’s spectrum policy and the need for stronger support for new commercial wireless services. We need to all learn lessons from this process and ensure that decisions on key spectrum bands like lower 3 GHz occur in a more expedited and collaborative manner.”
“I commend Chairman Pai for circulating a draft order to approve Ligado’s applications, which will make much-needed mid-band spectrum, specifically L-band spectrum, available for terrestrial use,” said Steve Berry, president and CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association, of which Ligado is also a member. “This long-awaited, positive progress comes at a critical time for all Americans, particularly those in rural areas, who are relying on mobile connections and services more than ever before. Mid-band spectrum provides real opportunities for deploying next-generation technologies, and competitive carriers are eager to access this valuable resource to expand and enhance their networks. I thank the Chairman for taking steps to approve the applications and look forward to continued work to bring robust mobile broadband to all corners of the US as quickly as possible.”
“WIA applauds Chairman Pai for circulating a draft order to approve Ligado’s plans to deploy a nationwide network that would primarily support 5G and IoT services,” said Wireless Infrastructure Association President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein. “After years of diligence, study, and discussion, today’s action is further evidence that the FCC bases its decisions on science and engineering. Freeing up more spectrum, especially mid-band spectrum, is vital to 5G deployment. Ligado’s proposal offers an enormous opportunity for infrastructure investment, deployment, and connectivity for Americans across the country right when we need it most.” Ligado is also a member of WIA.
“We applaud Chairman Pai and the FCC for their proposal to grant Ligado’s longstanding license modification request. Ligado has requested for almost a decade to modify its license to help deploy 5G via a terrestrial/satellite network that would bring 5G to more Americans,” said Bertram Lee, public counsel at Public Knowledge. “Public interest advocates have been clamoring for the FCC to approve Ligado’s (then Lightsquared) license modification request for the better part of a decade. Reallocating this spectrum for internet-of-things facilitates the transition to 5G as there is no more ‘greenfield’ spectrum for novel use. The Chairman's proposed Order reveals how the FCC has worked to both protect incumbent GPS users while allowing for pro-competitive commercial licensing of spectrum. The FCC should continue to find ways to address genuine federal concerns while also building efficiency in the allocation of spectrum for broader commercial use. Congress has entrusted the FCC to strike the proper balance between the needs of incumbents and the potential benefits to new entrants or new users, and here, the FCC gets it right.”
“The Ligado order should have been adopted years ago. While it’s heartening that Chairman Pai is standing up against unreasonable federal agency efforts to block more efficient uses of spectrum, the compromises needed to overcome the balkanization and NIMBYism that afflicts the Trump administration’s incoherent spectrum policy are disheartening,” said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “Like the 5.9 GHz band, where the Department of Transportation continues to block a full reallocation, Ligado’s spectrum is now saddled with conditions that will severely limit its utility. In both cases, the FCC did what politics allowed, but not what the agency would have done based purely on the technical and economic merits.”
Technology Policy Institute Senior Fellow and President Emeritus Thomas Lenard said, “I congratulate the FCC on circulating today's important draft order to approve Ligado Networks' proposed license modifications. The need for additional spectrum for mobile broadband and emerging 5G technologies is well established. Allowing the Ligado spectrum to lie fallow would represent a waste of valuable resources that could provide substantial benefits for consumers in the form of new Internet of Things and other uses. Beginning in 2010, I and colleagues have written extensively about the options available for increasing spectrum for broadband, stressing the important role the Ligado spectrum can play in that effort. The attempt to allow the L-band to be used for terrestrial services has been ongoing for many years. Ligado has undertaking extraordinary efforts to be able to use its spectrum to deliver next-generation network services, including entering into spectrum use coexistence agreements with five leading GPS manufacturers, lowering maximum power transmissions, and creating a large guardband for satellite navigation systems.”
Free State Foundation President Randolph May said, “Above all else, I’m pleased that Chairman Pai has circulated a draft order. For several years now, I’ve advocated that the FCC move ahead to make a decision on Ligado’s long-pending applications. I’ve never professed to render any definitive opinion on the finer points of the various interference claims involved in this years-long controversy. But I know that Ligado has gone to great lengths to modify its plans to address claimed interference concerns. And have confidence in the technical expertise of FCC’s engineering staff and the commissioners’ willingness to take that expertise into account. So I hope the Commission now acts promptly. This is another FCC action that can advance the U.S. position with regard to 5G deployment.”
“I applaud the Chairman and the FCC for unlocking more vital mid-band spectrum,” said Roslyn Layton, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “Unleashing America’s 5G economy is critical for the United States’ global competitiveness and key to that goal is freeing up more mid-band spectrum for 5G. By moving forward on Ligado’s application to free up 40 MHz of L-Band spectrum, Chairman Pai has once again demonstrated leadership and a commitment to advance 5G deployment and help jumpstart America’s recovery. As the record clearly demonstrates, Ligado has taken numerous steps to cooperate with federal agencies in testing technologies and addressing potential spectrum signal interference issues with GPS operations. Ligado’s application will allow the L-Band to be put to much more productive use and help unlock the 5G economy for all Americans.” —Paul Kirby, [email protected]
MainStory: FCC FederalNews SpectrumAllocation Satellites WirelessDeployment
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