Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and Pentagon officials are stepping off the sidelines to blast a new draft order that would reallocate a GPS-adjacent portion of the radio spectrum to Ligado Network to support new 5G and Internet of Things (IoT) development.
Federal Communications Committee (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai released a draft order to provide Ligado with a license modification to deploy a low-power terrestrial nationwide network in L-Band, Defense Daily’s sister publication Via Satellite reported April 16. Pai emphasized in his announcement that the proposal would be approved with conditions to prevent interference with the U.S. military’s GPS spectrum.
Defense officials and a variety of industry members have fought this outcome for years, Via Satellite noted. This week, the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and the Defense Department’s IT experts also loudly urged the FCC to reject the proposal, and for administration leaders to intervene.
The Pentagon came out in opposition to Ligado’s proposal earlier this week. The Defense Department’s Chief Intelligence Officer Dana Deasy told reporters in an April 14 briefing that he was speaking for all defense agencies that it is in the U.S. government’s interest not to pursue the request.
“We have very strong technical evidence that would suggest that moving forward with that proposal would cause harm to the adjacent GPS spectrum,” he said. Deasy noted that he has had conversations on the subject with government officials including Air Force Lt. Gen. Brad Schwedo, the Joint Staff’s CIO; Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin; Defense Secretary Mark Esper; and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. John Hyten; along with members of the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
The request has earned a rare bipartisan, bicameral rebuke from members of the armed services committees on Capitol Hill.
The two leaders of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), each released statements this week criticizing the potential move.
Smith wrote a letter Thursday to Esper and Pai, stating that he supported efforts to ensure the United States leads the global implementation of 5G networks and to counter China’s “aggressive, global promotion” of its own companies, but that he found Ligado’s proposal to pose “an even larger security risk” than that coming from Beijing.
“While I strongly support development of the world’s most robust, safe and secure network, using L-Band spectrum in such close proximity to critical GPS, as Ligado’s proposal requires, carries an unacceptable risk that far outweighs the possibility of a 5G network,” Smith said.
On Wednesday, the two leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) joined Thornberry in sending a letter to President Trump, asking him to intervene and prevent the FCC from granting the license modification request and calling the proposal “not essential to winning the 5G competition with China.”
“Ligado’s planned usage will likely harm military capabilities, particularly for the U.S. Space Force, and have major impact on the national economy,” the lawmakers wrote. “Further, this plan would cost taxpayers billions of dollars to replace current GPS equipment, which could be rendered useless, and would force American families and businesses to use foreign space-based navigation and timing systems to replace the functions of GPS.
“This is fundamentally a bad deal for America’s national and economic security, and the timing could not be worse,” the letter continued.
Thornberry called the proposal “a flawed effort” in his own Thursday statement and noted that no other country is using this portion of the spectrum for 5G buildout. “This could make the United States a leader without followers and Ligado’s plans dubious from the outset,” he said, adding that if the FCC were to move forward with the plan, “Congress should immediately revisit and revise their authority.”
Aerospace lobbyists, including the Aerospace Industries Association, have also come out against the proposal.
“New technology is vital to America’s economy, national security, and to our aerospace and defense industry. However, the government has a responsibility to help ensure it is deployed in a way that does not jeopardize the work of our armed forces or the safety of the American people,” AIA said in a Thursday statement.
“Today’s announcement disregards the serious concerns raised by various government agencies about the harmful impacts to GPS,” the association continued. “We urge the FCC to reject the Chairman’s proposal and adequately protect the GPS network that underpins our nation’s military operations and the safety of our airspace.”
Meanwhile, multiple non-armed services committee lawmakers have issued statements of support for the proposal, including Senate Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. House members who support Ligado include Rep. Bob Latta, (R-Ohio), Republican Leader of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, and and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif), who sits on the House commerce committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee.