NTIA asks FCC to reconsider Ligado license changes

NTIA asks for stay, reconsideration of L-Band license changes

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has asked the Federal Communications Commission to rethink its recent decision to modify Ligado Networks’ spectrum licenses, warning that the changes “threaten to harm federal government users of the Global Positioning System along with a variety of other public and private stakeholders.”

NTIA asked for both a reconsideration of the license changes, and a stay on Ligado’s ability to use the spectrum under the recently approved modifications, arguing that the FCC’s decision “relies upon a new and unproven ‘harmful interference’ metric and imposes unworkable conditions while still uncertain whether GPS receivers critical to national security and public safety would experience remediable harmful interference.”

“The Commission should meaningfully test its new and unproven harmful interference metric and overhaul unworkable grant conditions prior to deployment,” NTIA said. “It is crucial that the Commission acknowledge that further technical studies and testing must be undertaken to ensure that Ligado’s actual terrestrial network would not cause harmful interference to GPS and other authorized services before it is authorized to operate anywhere.”

In April, the FCC voted unanimously to allow Ligado Networks to use its L-Band spectrum at 1.6 GHz to provide a low-power terrestrial network aimed at supporting private 5G and industrial IoT services. The conditions of operation include a 23-megahertz guard band made up of Ligado’s own spectrum and limitations on downlink power operations and which portions of the band that Ligado actually uses. Those conditions were part of the FCC’s effort to address the concerns of GPS users, including the Department of Defense, that nearby GPS operations would be disrupted by Ligado’s new network.

While the FCC felt it had addressed those concerns sufficiently, the defense agencies disagree. NTIA’s petition argues that the FCC “gave insufficient deference to the considerations raised by the Executive Branch, especially those from the Departments of Defense and Transportation, while justifying its decision in large part on the potential public interest benefits of a new low-power terrestrial service that would compete with or complement 4G and 5G networks already operating or being deployed across the United States.”

Satellite and GPS users have insisted that, as put in a letter from a coalition of aerospace, satellite and weather information users, the “grant of Ligado’s applications will have substantial, costly, and far-reaching implications for federal and non-federal operations alike.” The U.S. Air Force and other federal executive branch agencies believe that the changes to Ligado’s licenses will harm Department of Defense operations. According to a memorandum including in NIST’s filing from the DoD’s Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee. “The mitigation measures Ligado has proposed are impractical and un-executable in that they would shift the risk of interference to, and place enormous burdens on, agencies and other GPS users to monitor and report the interference. Moreover, Ligado’s mitigation proposals would not protect the vast majority of GPS receivers, such as airborne uses, that are not restricted to specific defined areas of operation such as military installations.”

The memorandum indicated that DoD has put substantial investments into maintaining and modernizing its GPS operations — more than $15 billion in planned and executed spending between 2000 to 2024 — and that “almost every GPS receiver fielded throughout the DoD joint force potentially could be adversely affected” by the changes to Ligado’s licenses.

Since the FCC vote, the DoD has been making its case to Congress that the FCC decision should be revisited. In a recent Senate Armed Services Committee meeting, Dad Deasy, DoD’s CIO, told the committee that “Ligado and 5G simply do not go together. It is clear to the DoD that the risk to GPS far outweighs the benefits of this FCC decision and the FCC needs to reverse their decision.”

In a May 7 letter to the FCC, bipartisan members of the House Armed Services Committee expressed “deep concern” over the Ligado license modifications. “We share the goal of maximizing the shared use of spectrum for national security and the economic prosperity of the American people. … However, we note that no other country is pursuing the use of this portion of the spectrum for 5G, and there are substantial doubts about the technical feasibility of doing so. Our committee is actively seeking solutions that will facilitate and direct DoD to share as much spectrum as possible for commercial use, but the nation faces threats that will require DoD to continue to use parts of the spectrum needed for 5G,” the bipartisan House Armed Services Committee members wrote.

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly responded to that letter with one that said he was open to reconsidering the matter “if presented with new and convincing evidence and data,” but generally expressing that he felt the commission had satisfied statutory requirements and given data from the executive branch and defense agencies its due during the original decision-making process.

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