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NDAA Passage Puts Guard Rails on FCC's Ligado Approval

The Senate has overridden President Trump's veto of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)  81 to 13, which also means Congress has put brackets around an FCC decision that allows Ligado to use satellite spectrum adjacent to GPS for terrestrial 5G. That is according to satellite interests opposed to the FCC's Ligado approval.

Also Read: House Armed Services Committee Members Take Aim at FCC's Ligado Decision

Capitol Hill

(Image credit: Gary Arlen)

Despite pushback from GPS entities and some federal agencies, the FCC voted unanimously April 20 to approve Ligado's (formerly LightSquared) application to deploy a low-power terrestrial 5G network in the L-Band satellite spectrum, one of a series of FCC decisions meant to free up more spectrum for 5G. But DOD, with the backing of Armed Services Committee members in both houses of Congress, campaigned hard against Ligado and the FCC decision and continue to try to mitigate what they see as the potential interference to critical navigation and positioning systems.

But language was added to the NDAA to make sure that Ligado does not interfere with satellite communications before proceeding with its plans. 

Also Read: FCC Says Senate Ligado Attacks are Fear Mongering 

"This action taken by both chambers of Congress provides a clear signal from a bipartisan majority of our nation’s lawmakers that they are concerned about Ligado’s potential to interfere with vital SATCOM and GPS services across the country," said the Satellite Safety Alliance. "As was made clear via provisions included in the NDAA, Ligado will now be subject to an independent investigation that will ensure a clear look at how Ligado’s service would interfere with vital SATCOM and GPS services. Also included in the bill is a provision that prohibits the Department of Defense (DOD) from contracting with any company, like Ligado, whose operations may cause harmful interference to a DOD GPS device."

"With the NDAA veto override, Congress has loudly expressed its concerns regarding the FCC’s flawed Ligado order and the resulting interference it is likely to cause to SATCOM services," said the alliance. "Should the independent studies reveal interference as we expect, Ligado will not be able to move forward as it had planned. For years, Ligado (and formerly LightSquared) has been attempting to repurpose and flip satellite spectrum under the guise of advancing 5G technology in America. After over 10 years and millions of dollars wasted on lobbyists and lawyers, this “Ligado is 5G” argument has simply been proven to be a myth.

Also Read: Ligado Defends FCC Decision 

GPS companies and users had pushed back on the Ligado application, saying they could face interference to critical services, but FCC engineers said that harmful interference could be avoided, including by requiring a guard band of spectrum between Ligado and adjacent-band GPS and a 99% reduction in power levels from Ligado's 2015 application.  

Airline interests including plane builders, pilots, air transport companies and airlines including Jet Blue, Delta, and Southwest petitioned the FCC to dismiss the Ligado application.  

But Pai cited the bipartisan support for the item of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr on the one hand and Democrats Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia and Rep. Doris Matsui of California on the other. 

Ligado has been trying to launch a terrestrial wholesale wireless broadband service using spectrum initially licensed for satellite for most of a decade. Back then it was for a 4G network.  

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.