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June 23, 2021

Inhofe Speaks on the Senate Floor about the Bipartisan 'RETAIN' Act

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), today spoke on the Senate floor about the bipartisan Recognizing and Ensuring Taxpayer Access to Infrastructure Necessary for GPS and Satellite Communications Act. This legislation requires Ligado to cover the cost for correcting any interference their operations create for the public or private sector.

As Prepared for Delivery:

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission approved an application by Ligado Networks to repurpose federal spectrum in a way that will drastically interfere with GPS and satellite communications

This decision will threaten GPS and satellite communications reliability for millions of Americans who rely it. 

The reliability of GPS and satellite communications is necessary for safety of life operations, national security and economic activity.

I’m going to pause here for a minute to drive home what this actually means for every American. 

Here are some of the day to day activities that will be difficult when we’re experiencing GPS interference from Ligado.

A big one – using your credit or debit card. When you are making a purchase or using an ATM, our financial systems rely on GPS timing to work.

Another – making a phone call. Cell phone networks rely on GPS to synchronize cell towers so calls can be passed seamlessly. If they experienced interference, your call could drop when moving from tower to tower. 

Here is one most people don’t expect: energy, whether that is filling up your tank at the pump or managing electrical grids to light our homes. We rely on GPS timing to safely operate underground pipelines and our electricity grid,

Farmers and ranchers depend on GPS and satellite communication when planting crops, applying fertilizer, and during harvesting operations to move large and critical machinery with precision.

Working out. A study last year found that one-fifth – 20 percent – of all Americans use a fitness tracker or smartwatch, the majority of which use GPS to count steps and track distance. 

Taking a flight. Commercial and civil aviation rely on GPS navigation and satellite communications to operate safely.

Driving around. Each day, countless Americans rely on Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps, or any of the other navigation systems to get them from point A to point B. 

And, while no one hopes they ever need a fire truck, ambulance or other emergency services – 9/11 operators and EMS use GPS and satellite communication to locate a caller and navigate as quickly as possible. We know in these instances that every minute is critical. 

There is more: weather forecasting; the movement of goods on our highways; surveying maritime harbors and channels; operation of construction and mining equipment—the list goes on and on. 

How do we know that Ligado will cause interference? The FCC told us when they approved the Ligado Order.

The FCC said: “Ligado shall expeditiously repair or replace as needed any U.S. Government GPS devices that experience or are likely to experience harmful interference from Ligado’s operations.”

Over 21 organizations, companies and industries have filed petitions for reconsideration after the order was released, documenting the damage they’d face from the Ligado interference. 

Here is one way to put the interference into perspective. Because GPS signals travel from satellites in space, by the time those signals get to Earth’s surface, they are low power. 

Because the FCC Order allows Ligado to repurpose spectrum to operate a terrestrial-based network, Ligado signals on Earth’s surface will be much more powerful than GPS, causing substantial and harmful interference.

While the FCC required Ligado to repair damage to federal agencies that result from the interference, Congressional action is needed because the FCC’s Ligado Order fell short in two important ways:

First, the Order did not provide an adequate description of costs to federal agencies that would result from Ligado’s interference.

o   We took bipartisan steps to correct this in last year’s NDAA by including provisions directing DOD to produce an estimate of damages and costs associated with the harmful interference to GPS.

o   We also directed DOD and the National Academies of Sciences to conduct an independent technical review of the harmful inference that Ligado will cause. 

Second, the FCC failed to require that Ligado bear the costs of interference to state governments or pay for interference to devices owned by individual users.

I talked already about how many ways we rely on GPS in everyday life – none of that would be protected from interference under the existing Ligado Order.

That’s why I am introducing legislation, the Recognizing and Ensuring Taxpayer Access to Infrastructure Necessary for GPS and Satellite Communications Act of 2021—the RETAIN Act. 

My legislation ensures federal agencies, state governments and all others negatively impacted by the actions of a private actor are not left holding the bag when it comes to costs – and worse, aren’t put in the position where they have to push the costs onto American consumers.

Why is this legislation necessary?

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

I ask that my colleagues join me in cosponsoring this important legislation.

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