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Petitions urge FCC to rescind Ligado network approval

More study of GPS jamming needed, groups say

A federal agency that develops national internet-access policy and 10 groups from the aviation industry including AOPA were among numerous organizations petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to rescind its approval of the proposed Ligado Networks 5G wireless network over concerns about its potential to overwhelm GPS reception.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

The petitions were filed as numerous public and private-sector opponents of the Ligado network proposal have been galvanized to action by the FCC’s unexpected approval of the network plan in April. From technical concerns about GPS-signal jamming to officials’ outrage at the FCC, critics have called for a reversal of the unanimous vote that they say left critical GPS-interference vulnerabilities unresolved.

As the controversy has continued over Ligado’s proposed network to support “internet-of-things” service, the FCC has publicly reiterated its mission to “accelerate the buildout of 5G in communities across the country.”

In a petition transmitted to the FCC on May 22, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a Commerce Department agency that develops broadband internet-access policy goals, urged the agency to rescind the conditional approval issued to Ligado Networks, contending that it “will cause irreparable harms to federal government users” of GPS.

Although focused mostly on the Department of Defense’s GPS concerns, the NTIA also said the FCC “failed to consider the major economic impact its decision will have on civilian GPS users and the American economy.” It called for the FCC to mount a “a truly independent technical evaluation” to be conducted by an entity “not affiliated with any interested party.”

Separately, the NTIA filed a request for “a stay in the proceedings to prevent Ligado from deploying its network until this petition is addressed and harmful interference concerns are resolved.”

Aviation groups weigh in

A petition filed by 10 aviation organizations including AOPA contends that the FCC’s conditional order lacks technical parameters to protect GPS-based navigation and satellite communications from interference.

“In an attempt to make up for this failing, the Order adopts a long list of license conditions,” the petition said. “But these have numerous deficiencies and arbitrarily shift much of the burden for protection upon the aviation industry itself, putting air safety and aviation operations at risk.”

The aviation groups argued that the FCC should resolve the matter within 90 days of the Ligado order’s release­ or suspend the order while the petition is considered.

“In either event, the Commission should ultimately reconsider the Order and deny Ligado’s applications,” it said.

With reconsideration requests and other filings on the increase, the petitioners were preparing for the next phase of the proceedings.

“There is an expectation that the FCC will outline, as early as this week, how they plan to address the petitions and the unprecedented onslaught of concerns presented by the Ligado decision,” said AOPA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Jim Coon.

Ligado Networks is the successor to LightSquared, a terrestrial wireless network proponent that filed for bankruptcy in 2012 after failing to win approval for its proposal that also raised concerns about potential interference with GPS reception. AOPA was a leading opponent of the proposal in the aviation sector.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web 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 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Technology, ADSB, Training and Safety

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