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Federal Communications Commission Must Reconsider Ligado Offer, Says Former Commissioner

Elijah Labby

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Photo of former Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell by Greg Elin used with permission

July 9, 2020 — The Federal Communications Commission should rescind or reconsider its Ligado offer, former Commissioner Robert McDowell said in a Lincoln Network webinar Thursday.

The webinar, titled “Industry Perspectives: FCC’s Ligado Decision,” saw participants discuss the Federal Communications Commission’s April decision to allow Ligado, a satellite telecom service, to deploy its satellites in the L-Band.

This band is also home to military GPS technology, so the decision has proven to be a point of contention between the Department of Defense and the FCC.

McDowell argued that the risks of Ligado’s deployment in the band outweigh any potential benefits.

“Either the FCC needs to rescind its order, or propose meaningful and enforceable conditions that protect [military technology] from Ligado’s harmful interference,” he said.

Accusations of Ligado's interference with military GPS in the L-Band are overstated, argued attorney Joel Thayer.

“You and I are having a conversation, but there’s an air conditioning unit in the back,” he said. “I can hear the air conditioning and you can hear the air conditioning, but that doesn’t have to prevent us from having a conversation.”

Both the Democratic and Republican commissioners approved the decision to grant Ligado the spectrum, Thayer added.

“This was a bipartisan, unanimous decision by the FCC to approve Ligado,” he said. “The Ligado order — the process itself — involved a 17 year, painstaking process that even existed while Commissioner McDowell was [in the agency].”

In May, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a meeting where officials from the Department of Defense accused the FCC of ignoring a legitimate threat to military GPS abilities. Officials from the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and more warned that the disruption to the technology could have devastating consequences.

The FCC called the warnings “baseless fear-mongering.”

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