Senate Bill Calls for Ligado To Pay for GPS Harm

 - June 23, 2021, 11:29 AM
(Photo: Heather Trautvetter)

Continuing his campaign to minimize the impact of Ligado Network’s planned 5G network, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) has introduced a bipartisan bill to require the company to pay for costs of repair for any private equipment harmed as a result of its use of the associated spectrum. The FCC in April 2020 had granted approval for Ligado—once known as LightSquared—to use portions of the L-band spectrum that is adjacent to frequency bands used for GPS and satellite communications.

That approval came over strong opposition from aviation users who warned that it could compromise safety. The Departments of Defense and Transportation also objected.

The FCC order was conditioned on Ligado paying the federal government for costs of correcting interference but did not specify what those costs were and did not address the private sector.

Jointly introduced with Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) and Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota), the Recognizing and Ensuring Taxpayer Access to Infrastructure Necessary for GPS and Satellite Communications Act (RETAIN GPS and Satellite Communications Act, S.2166) would lay out some of the costs involved, as well as ensure private operators were compensated for any damage incurred.

“GPS and satellite communications don’t only impact our military—we rely on it for so much of our day-to-day lives, which is why we need to take steps to protect not just the federal government from the harmful decision, but all state and local governments, private entities, and consumers, too,” Inhofe said. “When Ligado’s effort to repurpose spectrum causes interference in the infrastructure of those systems, as tests have shown it will, consumers and taxpayers shouldn’t bear the burden of updating countless systems. That cost should only be borne by the responsible party: Ligado.”

“Given the continued concerns regarding Ligado’s efforts from stakeholders like the Department of Defense, Department of Transportation, NTIA, and countless industries that rely on GPS and satellite communications, Congress should establish clear preconditions that Ligado must meet before the FCC order may go into effect,” Duckworth added.

The Keep GPS Working Coalition—which represents a range of industries and organizations, including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association—lauded the bill.

“This legislation protects the country’s national and economic security from the consequences of the FCC’s ill-advised Ligado order, which would impact the estimated 900 million GPS receivers currently in use,” said Dale Leibach, spokesperson for the Keep GPS Working Coalition.

In addition, aviation groups such as the Air Line Pilots Association and National Air Transportation Association (NATA) voiced their support. “This bill represents a positive move toward safeguarding the reliability and efficiency of our national air system while maintaining fairness for all spectrum users,” said John McGraw, NATA v-p of regulatory affairs.

The bill is the latest in a series of steps that Inhofe and his Senate colleagues have taken in opposition to the FCC order, including an appeal to the FCC to reconsider its decision, a hold placed on an FCC nominee, a previous call for Ligado to cover damages, and measures seeking other studies and technical reviews.