FCC approves controversial bandwidth request criticized by Pentagon

By Justin Doubleday / April 20, 2020 at 11:29 AM

The Federal Communications Commission has unanimously approved Ligado Networks’ request to deploy a low-power terrestrial nationwide network in the L-Band, despite concerns from the Pentagon and other federal agencies about the deployment interfering with GPS signals.

In an announcement released this morning, the FCC said the unanimous approval comes with conditions to “protect incumbents from harmful interference.” Ligado’s network will support 5G and Internet of Things services, according to the FCC.

“The order approving Ligado’s application was adopted without dissent and will promote more efficient and effective use of our nation’s spectrum resources and ensure that adjacent band operations, including the Global Positioning System (GPS), are protected from harmful interference,” the announcement states.

The ”stringent conditions” in the order include requiring Ligado to provide a “significant,” 23 megahertz guard-band in its licensed spectrum to separate it from operations in the adjacent Radionavigation-Satellite Service allocation, according to the announcement. Ligado is also required to limit the power levels of its base stations, as well as report station locations and technical operating parameters to potentially affected government and industry stakeholders before commencing operations.

The FCC’s unanimous approval comes after the Defense Department, other federal agencies and top defense lawmakers made last-ditch attempts to convince the commission to reject Ligado’s request.

The Pentagon did not immediately have comment on the FCC’s approval and whether the conditions included in the order address its concerns.

In a statement released over the weekend, DOD and the Transportation Department warned approving Ligado’s request could threaten everything from military operations to civilians using GPS on their smartphones.

"Americans rely on our Global Positioning System (GPS) each day for many things: to locate citizens in need of emergency assistance through our E-911 system, to secure our financial system, to order and receive shipments, to travel by car for work and leisure, to facilitate commercial trucking and construction work, and even to make a simple cellphone call," DOD and DOT said in the statement. "Our Departments rely on GPS each day for all those reasons as well to coordinate tactical national security operations, launch spacecraft, track threats, and facilitate travel by air and sea. The proposed Ligado decision by the Federal Communications Commission will put all these uses of GPS at risk."