May 6, 2020 – Military officials and legislators urged the Federal Communications Commission to reverse their approval of increased satellite broadband infrastructure development in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that took place in person on Wednesday.
In April, the FCC authorized the implementation of Ligado, a satellite broadband provider. The decision has been fraught with controversy. Despite promises from Ligado that its service would not pose a threat to the operation of military GPS infrastructure, these officials claimed that the technology has already been disruptive.
Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin analogized the problem of radiofrequency interference to noise.
“The quietest possible sound might be represented by rustling leaves, which are quoted at zero to ten decibels...On the other hand, a jet taking off will create a sound 140 to 150 decibels,” Griffin said. “What we are trying to do with GPS is to hear the sound of leaves rustling through the noise of a hundred jets taking off all at once.”
The panelists, including U.S. Space Force General John W. Raymond and U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, were entirely on the side of the Defense Department witnesses, a fact to which Ligado objected.
Allen expressed concerns about the FCC's behavior, saying that it disregarded “expertise within the federal government.”
“We could have a situation where instead of trying to reach a consensus, we have the FCC basically assuming and determining everything according to their own intuitions,” he added.
Committee Chairman James Inhofe, R-Okla., found the arguments compelling.
“I started in the Senate and was on the Senate Armed Services Committee starting in 1994,” he said. “And I don't think I've ever seen a more impressive group of witnesses on a specific subject.”
Ligado has claimed to have taken steps to ensure that its service will not interfere with government GPS and has committed to providing six months of notice before implementation.
However, many members of President Trump's cabinet expressed concern that the risks are too significant.
“[We cannot] allow the proposed Ligado system to proceed in light of the operational impact to GPS,” said the Pentagon's chief information officer Dana Deasy.
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