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Bill would tag Ligado for GPS interference costs, damage

On June 22, Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) introduced S.2166, the Recognizing and Ensuring Taxpayer Access to Infrastructure Necessary for GPS and Satellite Communications Act—the partial title’s abbreviation spells RETAIN—to “ensure that the costs incurred by the public sector, businesses and consumers as a result of the FCC’s decision” would go on Ligado’s tab.

Inhofe, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has long been a skeptic of Ligado’s technical assurances that the network, which is intended to power the “internet of things,” would not overwhelm GPS reception on adjacent frequencies. In 2020 Inhofe held committee hearings to highlight Congress’s bipartisan national security concerns.

The Ligado opponents noted in their letter that although the FCC’s April 2020 network approval order concedes “the potential” for Ligado’s network to squelch GPS signals, the FCC missed the mark on estimating the potential ramifications, establishing protections, and requiring remedies such as repairing or replacing damaged devices and cataloguing costs reimbursable to federal agencies or private-sector entities.

“The RETAIN GPS and Satellite Communications Act acknowledges the harm to GPS and satellite communications end users caused by the Ligado order and ensures the burden of cost sits squarely where it belongs—on Ligado, rather than our first responders, farmers, pilots, boat owners, surveyors or construction companies,” the groups wrote. “We commend you for recognizing the expense and burden the Ligado order places on federal agencies, American taxpayers, businesses and consumers, and for providing clear and immediate relief to critical stakeholders with this legislation.”

Passage of the measure would mark the second time in 2021 that Congress applied pressure to the Reston, Virginia-based mobile communications company that has plowed $4 billion into its project to deploy spectrum of the L-band in 5G network applications while dismissing objections from aviation groups, numerous government agencies, and other GPS users. (LightSquared, a predecessor venture, went bankrupt in 2012.) When the National Defense Authorization Act took effect on January 1, a House/Senate Conference Report included language barring the Department of Defense from contracting “with an entity that engages in commercial terrestrial operations” in Ligado’s bandwidth ranges “unless the Secretary has certified to the congressional defense committees that such operations do not cause harmful interference” to the department’s GPS devices.

Also in January, the FCC pushed back, denying opponents’ motion to stay Ligado’s network authorization, with the FCC’s then-chairman, Ajit Pai, citing “stringent conditions” imposed to protect GPS users. Pai resigned January 21, with Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel taking over as the FCC’s acting chairwoman.

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