Senate Commerce Committee urged to protect GPS

The FCC in April approved the Ligado network to operate in the radio spectrum’s low-frequency L-band, which is used by many commercial and government services. Since the FCC gave Ligado Networks—successor to the network’s bankrupt original proponent, LightSquared—the go-ahead, L-band users have continued to criticize Ligado’s technical work designed to assure regulators that adjacent signals, including GPS navigation, will be adequately protected from Ligado’s relatively high-powered signals bleeding over.

So far, however, the FCC has not moved on petitions for reconsideration, and meanwhile Ligado President Doug Smith proclaimed in an October 23 news release that “now the fun begins” with Ligado having secured new capital from investors to ready the spectrum for 5G.

Not so fast, 80 organizations representing a host of industries including aviation said in an October 27 letter to Commerce Committee Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Ranking Member Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

“The L-band is heavily and efficiently utilized by the undersigned organizations and companies,” they wrote, noting that the FCC’s Ligado Order turned on “an insufficient appreciation for the real-world risks of harmful interference and the impacts that interference would have on our organizations, fourteen federal agencies and departments, and the broad cross-section of the American people we serve.”

The opponents reiterated that their own risk analyses of the Ligado network demonstrated the possibility of “degradation” of safety-of-life and other services provided over the L-band.

“These concerns have culminated in the almost unprecedented step of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) asking the Commission to reconsider its decision based on the detrimental effect” Ligado’s operation would have.

AOPA has consistently opposed any threat to GPS, now the backbone of the air traffic system, until technical issues are satisfactorily resolved.

The Senate panel should “work with the Commission to set aside the flawed Ligado Order” in favor of a more responsive review process, they wrote.

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