Commerce Backs Pentagon, Asks FCC to Reconsider Ligado Approval

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(Bloomberg) -- The Commerce Department asked the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider its approval of Ligado Networks LLC’s plan for a mobile broadband network, highlighting splits in the Trump administration over whether the proposed service would harm GPS.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a Commerce branch, said Friday it filed a petition asking the FCC to rescind its April 20 grant of approval, or to modify the conditions it imposed on Ligado. It also asked the FCC to prevent Ligado from deploying as the request is considered.

Federal agencies have cited potential interference to faint GPS signals that come from satellites. The NTIA in its petition said it was acting on behalf of the executive branch, particularly the Defense and Transportation departments.

Ligado’s “ground-based transmitters adjacent to the GPS spectrum have significant potential to disrupt and degrade the operation of” about 1 million GPS receivers belonging to the Defense Department, the NTIA said in its petition. It predicted “harm to military training, readiness, and DoD’s ability to conduct operations.”

The FCC approved Ligado’s plan on a 5-0 bipartisan vote, calling it a step toward enabling more advanced wireless services and saying that the conditions it imposed will prevent harmful interference. FCC chairman Ajit Pai is an appointee of President Donald Trump.

Powerful Support

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr each expressed support for Ligado in the days leading up to the FCC’s approval of the service.

An FCC spokesman asked to comment on the NTIA action said in an email, “We appreciate the support that our Ligado order has received from high-ranking executive branch officials” like Pompeo and Barr.

Ligado has said it will operate at a low power level and won’t pose a threat to the precise navigation enabled by GPS.

“This rehash of arguments put before the FCC over two years ago contains no new information,” Ashley Durmer, a spokeswoman for Ligado, said in an email. She said Ligado is “confident” the FCC will affirm its decision.

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