The Federal Communications Commission voted last night to reject a request from federal agencies to stall the controversial order allowing Ligado Networks to deploy a terrestrial network in the lower band of the electromagnetic spectrum.
The FCC voted 3-2 to deny the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s petition to stay its April 2020 decision authorizing Ligado to deploy its network.
The original order was approved unanimously, but the vote yesterday split on party lines, with the two Democrats on the commission dissenting.
The decision came less than 24 hours before FCC Chairman Ajit Pai stepped down from his post in conjunction with President Biden’s inauguration today.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who has been leading congressional opposition to the order, lambasted the decision and its timing on Twitter.
“It smacks of dirty dealing, and I’m once again disgusted with the process,” Inhofe tweeted. “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.”
NTIA is leading a contingency of federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Department of Transportation, in opposing the order. They argue the Ligado network will create harmful interference with GPS signals, damaging a range of national security and business operations alike.
Despite having its stay rejected, NTIA’s petition for the FCC to reconsider the Ligado order is still active. Additionally, several companies still have active requests to stay the order, including Lockheed Martin.
In a statement, Republican commissioner Nathan Simmington said the stay wasn’t warranted because there is no “imminent” and “irreparable” harm. He noted Ligado is already required to exchange information about its planned deployment with federal agencies and give GPS manufacturers six-months notice before the network is activated.
But Simmington, who was confirmed to the FCC last year after the Ligado order was approved, also said he was not certain Ligado will prevail on the issue.
“I do not share my colleague’s determination that Ligado will certainly succeed on the merits with respect to NTIA’s petition for reconsideration,” he said. “In my view, such certainty is premature because interference criteria relating to device performance have not been conclusively addressed. As there is an opportunity for further testing, including performance-based testing, there remains the possibility of a showing that will greatly bolster the merits of NTIA’s petition for reconsideration.”
The Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act requires the Pentagon to contract with the National Academies of Science and Engineering for an independent technical review of order.