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May 12, 2020

ICYMI: Inhofe Slams FCC's Order on Ligado Networks that Threatens National Security on Senate Floor

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), called out a decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to approve Ligado Networks’ request to repurpose spectrum — a move that extensive testing by federal agencies shows will jeopardize Global Position System (GPS) signals that support our military, public safety and over $1 billion in commerce every day.

As Prepared for Delivery:

Mr. President, by now, it shouldn’t be any surprise that I oppose the decision by the Federal Communications Commission to approve an application by Ligado Networks.

Ligado’s plan would use federal spectrum in a way that will interfere with GPS and satellite communications—and the FCC, despite near-unanimous objection from the rest of the federal government—has just said, “OK.”

GPS and satellite communications functions support everything—equipment our troops use on the battlefield, navigation for first responders and airlines, cell phones, ATMs… The list goes on and on.

Simply put, the FCC is jeopardizing GPS signals that Americans rely on every day—that support both our national and economic security—for the benefit of just one company and its hedge fund investors.

Ligado may be a new name, but this problem goes back a decade, when LightSquared was created in a hedge fund deal worth $5.3 billion.

Investors put billions on the table, and the only way to get a return was to repurpose LightSquared’s satellite spectrum for a terrestrial cell phone network.

In 2011, when LightSquared asked the FCC for permission to do just that, GPS and satellite communication users strongly objected due to the interference with GPS signals.

Federal agencies like the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) echoed these concerns.

In 2012, after it was clear there was no practical way to mitigate the GPS interference in their proposal, LightSquared declared bankruptcy.

Years later, LightSquared got enough new Wall Street hedge fund money to emerge from bankruptcy, be renamed Ligado and again push to repurpose satellite spectrum for its network.

After extensive testing and analysis, experts at nine federal agencies have unanimously concluded that Ligado’s proposal, even with updates, will still interfere with GPS signals and satellite communications.

Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee heard from experts at the Department of Defense, who described how this GPS interference will affect our warfighters.

They rely on GPS for navigation, logistics, and precision-guided munitions—in training and on the battlefield.

But at the end of the day, this is about much more than risking our military readiness and capabilities; Ligado’s proposal will hurt the American economy.

Our farmers rely on GPS to harvest their crops. Our truckers and airlines rely on GPS to move supplies and people safely.

Our maritime industry depends on GPS to place channel markings. Weather forecasting relies on satellite communications to save lives and property when tornadoes, hurricanes and floods strike our communities.

The FCC has put all this at risk by approving Ligado’s application.

This is a complex issue, but here’s an easy way to think of how Ligado’s network would interfere with our GPS signals.

Once Ligado turns its service on, it will be like trying to hear leaves rustling over the roar of 100 jet engines. This is according the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Dr. Griffin.

Now, the FCC has included certain mitigation measures in approving Ligado’s application.

But these are fundamentally flawed in every practical sense.

They would make Ligado the fox guarding the hen house. How can Ligado be impartial in deciding whether its own system is causing interference?

Ultimately, the taxpayer and consumer will be left to pay to fix this interference.

What I am most upset about is the failure of the process behind this decision.

A few people made a hasty decision over the weekend—in the middle of a national crisis—against the judgment of a unanimous conclusion by the Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee, which included nine federal agencies, as well as private sector stakeholders dependent on GPS and satellite communications.

As far as I can tell, this is a first—the first time the FCC made a decision over the weekend, completely discounting the universal opposition to the proposal.

In response to this unprecedented and unwise decision by the FCC, I am leading a letter to the FCC outlining critical national security concerns and urging the FCC to rescind their Order.

We cannot allow this decision to stand—and America agrees.

In the last three weeks, stakeholders from across the country and across the economy have expressed their opposition to the FCC decision.

Not just the military, but all of government and the private sector, including airlines, pilots, farmers, truckers, marine manufacturers, conservationists, equipment manufacturers and distributors, road builders, weather forecasters, and GPS device makers are opposed to Ligado’s application

I know my colleagues here in the Senate have heard from all of these groups—representing jobs and Americans from every single state, who use these GPS and satellite services every day.

I ask my colleagues to consider who supports the Ligado hedge fund investors?

No one. My understanding from talking with people close to the FCC is that the FCC was expected to reject the Ligado proposal once and for all.

The unanimous opposition from the interagency review committee was not surprising, but the final outcome was shocking.

With all of this opposition, how could the FCC decide—in the cover of darkness, over a weekend—that the unanimous concern about GPS interference was worth the risk to support the investments of hedge fund investors?

I can’t figure out what happened. Nor can former FCC Commissioners. Why did the FCC change course…and in such a dramatic fashion?

We may never know.

But what we do know is that Ligado has spent millions, $1.3 million in just 2020 so far, on lobbyists to try to convince Congress that their proposal is a good idea. This chart shows who they have hired and for how much.

Ligado is hiring whoever they can to convince you to support their hedge fund investors.

They even hired a former Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee to lobby against what he stood for while serving in that chamber.

Ligado has said this Order is about winning the race to 5G and beating China.

Those who claim Ligado’s proposal is necessary to defeat China’s 5G push are deliberately mixing up two different and important spectrum issues in order to sell their product: the sharing of mid-band 5G spectrum by DoD with industry, and harmful interference of Ligado’s signal with the low-band GPS signals used in nearly every aspect of daily life.

Ligado’s spectrum they are repurposing is not in the prime mid-band spectrum being considered for 5G—and Ligado’s low-band spectrum was not part of the FCC’s own plan to accelerate 5G development released in September 2018, called the “5G FAST Plan”.

Reliable GPS and satellite communications is important to everyone in America, and drives much of our nation’s economy.

We should not sacrifice GPS reliability for the sake of lobbyists and hedge fund investors on Wall Street.

I ask that my colleagues join me in urging the FCC to withdraw its approval of Ligado’s application.

Instead of moving ahead with this order, the FCC and Ligado should work with federal agencies and impacted stakeholders to find a better solution— one that will protect our economic and national security assets that rely GPS and satellite communications every day.

Background: On April 15, Inhofe, along with SASC Ranking Member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Ranking Member Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), wrote a letter to President Trump asking him to intervene to prevent the FCC from approving Ligado’s request. After the FCC approved the request over the near-unanimous objections of the rest of the federal government on April 22, the three congressional defense committee leaders, along with HASC Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), penned an op-ed in Defense News criticizing the FCC’s decision and explaining its effects on national security. On May 6, Inhofe chaired a SASC hearing, where Department of Defense officials laid out the data and analysis behind their objections to the proposal.

Inhofe entered the following materials into the record with his floor speech today: a letter from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration dated April 10, 2020, detailing objections to the proposal from numerous federal agencies, and an op-ed from Defense Secretary Mark Esper, published in the Wall Street Journal, describing how Ligado’s plan would “degrade the effectiveness and reliability” of critical GPS technology. Inhofe’s floor chart outlining Ligado’s stable of lobbyists can be viewed here   

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