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FCC nudges Ligado plan forward

Rosenworcel named acting FCC chairwoman

Editor's note: This story was updated January 22 to report that FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has been named acting FCC chairwoman, replacing Ajit Pai, who resigned on January 21.

The complicated case of the Ligado Networks 5G wireless communication system that critics consider a potential threat to GPS reception took a new turn on January 19 when the Federal Communications Commission, which approved the plan last April, denied opponents’ request to stay the project pending action on a reconsideration petition.

In a brief news release, the FCC announced that the petition to reconsider, filed last May 22 by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), “did not satisfy the requirements of a stay.”

The FCC also dismissed the NTIA’s assertion that “irreparable injury” could flow from allowing the network, which would operate on frequencies near the GPS band, to move forward.

Rather, the FCC agreed with Ligado’s contention that NTIA’s petition for reconsideration was unlikely to succeed.

“We must continue to move forward to ensure next-generation wireless services are available, and to do so, we must put this long-underused spectrum to its best use,” said then-FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

The news release, issued a day before Pai stepped down as FCC chairman, did not mention that two of the five FCC commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks, voted in favor of a stay.

On January 21, the FCC announced that Rosenworcel had been named acting chairwoman of the FCC by President Joe Biden.

Another commissioner, Nathan Simington, although declining to stay the Ligado project, said he did not necessarily see smooth sailing ahead for Ligado, or a likelihood of failure of the motion for reconsideration.

“In my view, such certainty is premature because interference criteria relating to device performance have not been conclusively addressed,” he wrote in a statement published within the FCC’s ruling on the stay.

The FCC’s last-minute action during Pai’s tenure came on the day AOPA and other aviation-industry organizations, among more than 70 industry groups and professional associations, sent a letter to the FCC commissioners urging them to grant the stay, noting that Congress had signaled “overwhelming bipartisan support” for “addressing the harmful interference that would be caused by the initial Ligado Order.”

After the stay was denied, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a pilot and a longtime critic of the Ligado plan who held hearings on its implications for GPS when he chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee, tweeted his resolve to keep up the pressure.

“It smacks of dirty dealing, and I’m once again disgusted with the process,” he said. “This isn’t over and I applaud the two commissioners who were on the right side. I will keep working with our stakeholders to file additional stays.”

The FCC’s decision gave a glimpse of a possible timeline for further action in the case, arguing that “the extraordinary equitable relief of a stay” was not warranted given that “the harmful interference issue” NTIA raised “will not likely arise until after Ligado deploys its network.” Such deployment “will not occur for some time and not before the Commission has an opportunity to rule on the Petition for Reconsideration,” it said.

According to the FCC’s announcement of Rosenworcel’s assumption of leadership, she “is a leader in spectrum policy, developing new ways to support wireless services from Wi-Fi to video and the internet of things.”

Before joining the FCC she served as senior communications counsel for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation following experience practicing communications law in Washington, D.C.


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: Advocacy, Aviation Industry, Technology

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