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Jam session: Ligado network gets static from Congress over risk to GPS

From the U.S. Capitol to social media, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and other lawmakers continued to blast the Federal Communications Commission for its unusual weekend approval in April of the Ligado Networks 5G wireless network proposal that critics say could jam GPS reception.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

The House Committee on Armed Services has also dialed in on the controversy, questioning the FCC’s decision-making process in a letter and setting a seven-day timeline for the agency’s response.

Inhofe—who resumed his criticism a few days after excoriating Ligado and the FCC at a May 6 hearing of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, which he chairs—has been a prominent voice among a steady stream of objections to Ligado’s license application from government officials and agencies and private-industry organizations.

On May 7, the House Committee on Armed Services wrote to the FCC to transmit its “deep concern,” noting that “the national security community was unanimous in the judgement that approval of the use of certain portions of the L band spectrum could pose an unacceptable risk to the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) in the United States.”

Ligado’s critics have skeptically received its assurances that the GPS signals that drive modern life will not be drowned out by Ligado’s louder transmission on an adjacent realm of spectrum that it considers “uniquely suited” to host its "internet of things" network.

Sen. Jim Inhofe chairs a committee hearing about the Ligado Networks wireless network proposal on May 6. Image courtesy of the United States Senate Committee on Armed Service.

Inhofe, who is a pilot, wants the five-member FCC to rescind Ligado’s approval, and he has signaled that the FCC can expect more static over how he believes the agency squelched Ligado’s opponents.

“With all of this opposition, how could the FCC decide—in the cover of darkness, over a weekend—that the unanimous concern about GPS interference was worth the risk to support the investments of hedge fund investors?” he said in remarks prepared for delivery on the Senate floor May 12. “I can’t figure out what happened. Nor can former FCC Commissioners. Why did the FCC change course…and in such a dramatic fashion? We may never know.”

What is known, he added, was that Ligado has spent $1.38 million on lobbying so far in 2020 “to try to convince Congress that their proposal is a good idea.”

Critics say Ligado Networks' proposed 5G network could jam GPS reception.

Inhofe’s presentation, posted to his Facebook page, was augmented in the Senate chamber by a “Lobbying for Ligado Networks” chart that listed lobbying entities and the amounts Inhofe said they were paid.

The House Committee on Armed Services homed in on the FCC’s handling of the case, calling the license approval decision inconsistent with “legislative direction” to resolve concerns.

The committee requested that the FCC explain its legal analysis and detail the extent to which FCC officials received briefings on classified test data. The committee also sought responses from commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks—who had characterized their approval votes as “a close call” in a statement—as to whether they thought national security concerns had been adequately addressed.

Stay tuned as AOPA continues to report on aviation’s supporters’ efforts to protect GPS navigation against the potential hazard of GPS signal interference.

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, Capitol Hill, NextGen

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