Pentagon presses on with campaign to overturn FCC’s Ligado order

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The National Telecommunications and Information Administration formally petitioned the FCC to reverse its decision to grant a spectrum license to Ligado.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. agency that advises the president on telecommunications policy issues on May 22 formally petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to reverse its April 20 decision to grant a spectrum license to Ligado to build a terrestrial wireless network.

The petition from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration was made “on behalf of the executive branch, particularly the Department of Defense and the Department of Transportation,” said the agency.

DoD has been leading an all-out campaign to kill Ligado’s 5G network plans on grounds that the FCC is allowing the company to use L-band spectrum that is adjacent to the Global Positioning System. DoD says a terrestrial broadband network in that spectrum band will interfere with GPS signals.

NTIA is asking the FCC to rescind its approval of the license modification and also is seeking to prevent Ligado from deploying its network until the petition is addressed and interference concerns are resolved.

What happens next?

“There’s no deadline for these kinds of petitions,” a telecommunications attorney tells SpaceNews.

But how exactly the FCC attempts to resolve this without throwing out the Ligado order is the big question, says the attorney, who asked to not be quoted by name because he works with the FCC. “Unless something serious changes politically, I would expect the FCC would summarily dismiss this.”

This will be a political fight, the attorney predicts. The FCC will be pressured to figure out a compromise with DoD but the commission also has to worry about maintaining its credibility on spectrum issues for 5G and not look like it is ceding power to DoD over commercial spectrum. The attorney says the Ligado case will an acid test for the FCC.

In a May 13 letter to the House Armed Services Committee, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said the decision involving the L-band license modification was made based on facts and data submitted by agencies. “As with all Commission matters. I remain open to reconsidering the decision if presented with new and convincing evidence and data,” he wrote. “The Commission’s license modification order extensively addresses the concerns in the record, including those raised by the national security community.”