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Bipartisan group of senators wants to hear the FCC’s side of the Ligado story

A June 4 letter to the FCC suggests senators are concerned that the backlash to the Ligado ruling has dominated the narrative
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, and U.S. Air Force Airmen stand beside a C-130J Super Hercules at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, Aug. 9, 2018. Cruz and his staff visited the base to meet commanders and familiarize themselves with the missions of the base, as well as to share the success and impact of the bi-partisan effort to successfully pass the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act through Congress faster than in the previous two decades. Airmen spoke to the senator and staff about the different missions and deployments the aircraft on the base have completed, along with some of the functions of the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mercedes Porter)

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators asked Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai in a June 4 letter to provide a detailed account of how the agency arrived at the decision to approve Ligado’s use of a portion of the L-band spectrum to build a 5G wireless network.

The FCC’s April 20 ruling drew fierce opposition from the Pentagon and other government agencies that claim Ligado’s network will interfere with the Global Positioning System that also operates in the L-band spectrum. These agencies have filed a petition to have the FCC’s order overturned.

The June 4 letter was signed by eight senators, most of them members of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation that oversees the FCC. The letter asks Pai to answer a list of 13 questions related to the Ligado decision and to “explain why the FCC believes granting this application is in the public interest.”

The letter suggests senators on the Commerce Committee are concerned that the negative reactions from the Pentagon and from the Senate and House Armed Services Committee have dominated the narrative and that the FCC has not told its side of the story.

The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on May 6 where DoD officials voiced their strong opposition to the FCC’s order but nobody from the FCC was invited to testify. On May 21 the House Armed Services Committee held a private conference call with FCC officials to discuss the matter.

“Congress has entrusted the FCC to make important technical and data-driven decisions regarding spectrum allocation and interference,” the letter says.

“We appreciate that SASC considered the Department of Defense’s position on the use of this spectrum but SASC only heard testimony in opposition to the modification of Ligado’s license.”

The Commerce Committee has been an advocate of the commercial use of spectrum and of the FCC’s role overseeing the private sector’s use of spectrum.

“America’s spectrum policies must promote the efficient use of spectrum in order for the United States to maintain its global leadership in wireless deployments and innovation,” says the letter.

The letter was signed by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mark Warner (D-Va.), John Thune (R-S.D) and Chris Coons (D-Del.).

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...