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Noise level rising as FCC action awaited on Ligado petitions

The arguments for and against revisiting the approval of the proposed Ligado 5G wireless network to ensure that it will not jam GPS reception and navigation became more pointed as the parties filed new documents in the case before the Federal Communications Commission.

Was the FCC’s April order approving the network—despite open questions about its potential to jam GPS navigation signals—“nothing short of baffling,” as Ligado’s critics claim? Or are its opponents from the aviation industry and other sectors reviving “debunked arguments” to undo the plan, as Ligado counters?

The high-profile case is unfolding against a backdrop of the FCC moving forward on speeding the rollout of 5G to support internet demand, GPS becoming ever more essential to individuals and organizations—as well as the cornerstone technology of the modernized air traffic system—and Ligado turning in some eye-popping numbers on the lobbying front.

Recent FCC submissions through early June reflected the positions being staked out as the parties waited to see whether the commission would address petitions to reverse the nod it gave to Ligado in an April 20 vote, or force opponents to seek a new venue—possibly in Congress, where it has faced a skeptical reception to date—to press their case.

Ligado's opponents are concerned that a wink went along with the FCC's nod to Ligado. In a consolidated rebuff of Ligado’s defense of its network, 10 aviation associations including AOPA challenged the credibility of Ligado’s aviation advisers and said they believed that the FCC accepted Ligado’s arguments about aviation safety despite those arguments being contradicted by “virtually the entire aviation industry.”

That action was "nothing short of baffling, and indicative of why the Order is arbitrary, capricious, and not supported by substantial evidence in the record,” they said.

Positions taken by Ligado “and its hired allies” against the petitions “frequently evade responding directly to the arguments of Joint Petitioners and repeatedly mischaracterize the Petition, the FAA’s analysis, the record, and even the Order,” the aviation groups said.

The FCC’s approval order was inadequate “to address the harmful interference that Ligado’s planned deployments will cause GPS receivers and satellite communications (“SATCOM”) terminals,” they added.

Ligado, the successor entity to LightSquared—the venture backed by special-situations investor Philip Falcone that went bankrupt in 2012 while pressing the project—responded to its critics June 2, and posted on its website a sharply worded news release that sought to nudge the FCC to move on and close the case.

Newly infused with $100 million it has raised “to operationalize Ligado’s vision,” according to a May 28 announcement, the company dismissed as old news the technical concerns noted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and others, accusing them of “still seeking to relitigate the same thoroughly debunked arguments, and—incredibly—paint the agency’s years-long review as a rush job.”

“They present no new data or analyses and provide no legitimate basis for reconsideration. The FCC should deny these petitions and affirm its decision to advance next-generation networks vital to America’s essential industries and workers. We hope such a decision puts an end to desperate efforts to undercut the FCC’s reasoned and properly executed Order,” Ligado said.

Ligado has insisted throughout the proceedings that “strict conditions” the FCC included in its approval order provided assurance that the network’s L-band transmissions would not overwhelm GPS signals of lower power on adjacent frequencies.

But the aviation groups have maintained that the FCC misconstrued the studies underlying the commission's decision that the protection of certified GPS receivers can be addressed by its license conditions, and produced a pro-Ligado decision that must be corrected on reconsideration.

Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz
Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 35-year AOPA member.
Topics: Advocacy, NextGen, Technology

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