WASHINGTON ― Legislation has returned that would force Ligado Networks to cover the cost of any GPS user harmed by potential interference related to the company’s use of the L-band spectrum, both in government and in the private sector.
The proposal from Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., is intended to escalate the potential costs for Ligado as it moves to set up a system of networks that government agencies and commercial trade groups have said could damage GPS reliability inside the United States. It’s the latest move from Inhofe and others aimed at halting Ligado’s spectrum use.
“GPS and satellite communications don’t only impact our military — we rely on it for so much of our day to day lives, which is why we need to take steps to protect not just the federal government from the harmful decision, but all state and local governments, private entities and consumers too,” Inhofe said in a statement.
Roughly a year ago, the Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to approve the plan from Ligado Networks to use L-band, the spectrum near GPS, which it says it will use to build a 5G network to boost connectivity for the industrial “internet of things” market.
Ligado has pushed back at claims from the Defense Department and others that its plan would create wide-ranging disruptions for GPS signals.
Ligado blasted the proposed legislation in a statement Wednesday, saying it implies “technical experts and career public servants at the FCC would knowingly put Americans in harm’s way. That is not only false, but also illustrates a lack of seriousness on this topic.”
“This legislation is unnecessary, as the FCC’s bipartisan, unanimous, and science-backed order fully protects GPS devices ― whether they’re used by the government or the private sector ― as well as satellite communications devices,” the company’s statement read. “This bill does not address any safety issues; instead, it presents a false notion that consumers are at risk ― when the FCC determined they are not ― and then requires one company to assume a cost burden that is not based on actual harm.”
A new letter from 84 entities ― including the Aerospace Industries Association and Lockheed Martin, among others outside the defense industry ― said an FCC order for Ligado to repair or replace government GPS devices its operations may harm “failed to go far enough.” The letter said the FCC order doesn’t account for potential costs to taxpayers from disruptions, and doesn’t cover private GPS owners, adding that limits on interference are “insufficient.”
Inhofe reintroduced the bill this week, adding a powerful co-sponsor — Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I. — to the Recognizing and Ensuring Taxpayer Access to Infrastructure Necessary for GPS and Satellite Communications Act.
While support from Reed and Inhofe, the committee’s ranking member, signals the legislation is a likely discussion topic for the annual defense authorization bill, the matter falls under the jurisdiction of the commerce committees.
Inhofe, who first introduced the legislation a year ago, has also added as co-sponsors Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who chairs the Senate Airland Subcommittee and co-chairs the Congressional GPS Caucus, and South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds, the top Republican on the Senate Cybersecurity Subcommittee.
Joe Gould is the Congress and industry reporter at Defense News, covering defense budget and policy matters on Capitol Hill as well as industry news.