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.
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.
As Pai prepared to resign, he issued a statement on January 20 noting agency accomplishments including advances in 5G across an interval of time he described as “its most productive period in recent history.”
It was not yet known whom President Joe Biden would select to replace Pai, who was an FCC commissioner for eight years, including four years as chairman.