Skip to content

May 06, 2020

ICYMI: Inhofe Blasts FCC Decision to Jeopardize National Security at SASC Hearing

In opening remarks at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), committee chairman, condemned the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to approve Ligado Networks’s proposal to repurpose spectrum adjacent to Global Positioning System (GPS) frequencies for a terrestrial cellular network — a move that threatens to interfere with signals that support critical military capabilities, public safety, and commerce.

Witnesses include: Dana Deasy, Chief Information Officer; Michael Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering; Admiral Thad W. Allen, USCG (ret.); and General Jay Raymond, Chief of Space Operations and Commander, U.S. Space Command.

As Prepared for Delivery:

Good afternoon. The Committee meets today to receive testimony on the FCC Order approving Ligado’s license to use spectrum that may interfere with GPS.

Before we begin, I want to thank you all for being here in these unusual circumstances. This hearing looks a little bit different from normal.

Rest assured, we are abiding by guidance from the Office of the Attending Physician, Sergeant at Arms, and Rules Committee as we hold this hearing today.

Many steps were taken minimize the risk to our members, our witnesses, our staff, and the public. That means we’re all six feet from one another. You’ve also got cleaning supplies by your seats. And if maintaining six feet of separation ever comes into question, I encourage my colleagues to wear your masks.

That we’re here today under these circumstances underscores the importance of this topic.

I welcome our witnesses and thank them for their service: Dana Deasy, Chief Information Officer; Michael Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering; Admiral Thad W. Allen, USCG (ret.); and General Jay Raymond, Chief of Space Operations and Commander, U.S. Space Command.

This is a complex issue, but it ultimately boils down to risk. And I do not think it is a good idea to place at risk the GPS signals that enable our national and economic security for the benefit of one company and its investors. 

After extensive testing and analysis, experts at almost every federal agency tell us that Ligado’s plan will interfere with GPS systems.

This will certainly affect our warfighters, who rely on GPS for navigation, logistics, and precision guided munitions, whether in training or on the battlefield.

But this is about much more than risking our military readiness and capabilities. Interfering with GPS will hurt the entire American economy.

Our farmers rely on GPS to harvest their crops. Our truckers and airlines rely on GPS to move supplies and people. Our banks rely on the GPS timing function. Every American uses GPS every day.

At the end of the day, economic security is national security.

The truth is that no one really knows what the exact impact of Ligado’s proposal will be. But we do know that once Ligado turns its service on, it will be like hosting a frat party next to a monastery, as one GPS expert put it.

What we do agree on is that we need to compete with China in 5G development. No one is disputing that fact. We’ve been working for months with the Department of Defense and the telecom industry to do just that.

Ligado’s proposal is not tied to that work whatsoever. They’ve tried to conflate their proposal with other mid-band spectrum sharing discussions, but in reality, these two issues are completely separate.

In answering the argument that GPS would be disrupted, the FCC says Ligado will be forced to pay for any disruptions its service causes to GPS. The reality is that the FCC order only requires Ligado to replace government-owned devices.

Ultimately, the burden of mitigating harmful interference will be placed on the Department of Defense, and American taxpayers will be left footing the bill.

What I’m most upset about is the failure of the interagency process behind this decision.

A few powerful people made a hasty decision over the weekend – in the middle of a national crisis, against the judgment of every other agency involved, and without cluing the President in on any of this.

The FCC may not be in this committee’s jurisdiction, but the effects of its decision sure are. I hope our witnesses will speak to the enormous risks this decision has for everyone who relies on GPS in America. With the technical and important nature of this topic, we will structure this hearing with a consolidated opening statement from the three Department of Defense witnesses, followed by a brief statement from the fourth witness.

This will allow a detailed explanation of the national security implications of the FCC’s decision and what steps the military will need to take to mitigate these effects.

The Department of Defense has provided materials to accompany their statement that are available in front of you and on display for public view.

I also plan to submit for the record a letter I received from the National Defense Industrial Association, which is made up of 1,700 businesses and 70,000 individual members, stating their “strong opposition” to Ligado’s proposal, along with a list of 68 companies and associations that are opposed as well.

You must believe that it couldn’t be worse but it is. Ligado took over a bankrupt LightSquared in 2015 and has been trying to obtain FCC licensing ever since. They waited until the whole world was distracted by COVID-19 and when everyone was looking the other way and unannounced to the public in total secrecy, on a weekend, passed this most controversial licensing. I say this because the federal agency opposition was unanimous. Not just the military but all of government and the private sector, including the airlines, farmers, truckers and maritime manufacturers, opposed the licensing and the FCC knew it. Hence the rushed weekend vote.

Next Article » « Previous Article