But skeptics, including the Pentagon, are mocking Ligado’s plans and claiming that they will severely disrupt GPS-critical military signals.
Some defense falcons on Capitol Hill are so alarmed that they ask President Donald Trump to intervene.
“It is not clear that the unanimous position of the entire executive – in the opposition – is sufficiently taken into account, and we believe it is important that the president is aware of the problem,” a Republican spokesman for the Senate Armed Forces Committee told POLITICO Am Thursday, Trump proposes to ensure that the FCC “does its due diligence.”
The chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) Later said in a statement on Thursday: “I am not, to say the least, pleased that the chairman is pushing ahead with a draft regulation to approve Ligado’s application, particularly in the midst of a global pandemic. This measure will reinforce rather than ease the current economic challenges. “
Inhofe added: “When people try to enforce bad politics in the middle of a crisis without much coordination with someone else, I wonder about their motives.”
“The FCC must not override the unanimous opinion of America’s national security leaders,” said Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, in a statement Thursday night. “If they do, Congress should immediately rethink and revise their authority.”
The FCC as an independent agency is not subject to Trump’s orders, although he appoints commissioners in 2017 and appoints Pai as chairman. The commission has yet to vote on Pai’s proposal, although it is expected that he will have little problem reaching a majority in the five-person panel.
The Pentagon’s opposition has not changed, a defense official confirmed Thursday after Pai’s announcement. The Pentagon had two objections in 2019, and despite Barr’s praise, several FCC executive agencies have officially reported that they have concerns. Cabinet agencies that supported these concerns included the DOJ and the Transport, Homeland Security and Energy departments, who signed a memo on February 14 stating objections to the plan.
Ligado’s supporters include Barr and Pompeo, as well as other cellular companies and retail groups, and Virginia’s Democratic Senator Mark Warner, a former cell phone manager. His lobbyists include Matt Schlapp, an important ally of Trump who is president of the American Conservative Union.
This Airwaves debate reflects the increasing tensions that the FCC has waged against several Trump Cabinet agencies in recent years, as well as an executive gap that has not stopped the chaos. Trump had promised a national frequency strategy last summer to consolidate the nation’s 5G game plan, but that hasn’t happened. And the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Ministry of Commerce, which is supposed to help mediate administrative struggles over radio waves, has been lacking a permanent head for almost a year.
Congress pressure is likely to remain strong on the Ligado Spat. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Chairman of House Transportation, recently wrote to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, expressing his own concerns about Ligado’s offer.
The question is whether the company’s service would interfere with GPS operations in nearby radio waves. The military claims the problem is serious and would require billions of dollars to replace GPS devices. Ligado and the FCC suggest that the conditions associated with the approval can prevent such dire circumstances.
“It is quite unusual for the FCC to overcome NTIA’s objections,” said Paul Gallant, a telecommunications analyst at Cowen research company. “But the FCC is at stake here, so their engineers must clearly feel that this won’t be the case.” Interference with the neighboring GPS. “
Gallant added that he expects Ligado to prevail.
“Frequency coordination has become very messy in this administration, which is strange because the White House is so focused on 5G,” he said. “But in the end Ligado is an FCC call and the White House trusts Pai.”
Earlier ties to the telecommunications industry also unite some of the key players in the debate.
Barr, who praised Ligado’s proposal in a February speech, worked with Pai at Verizon years ago when Barr was the company’s general counsel. The former chairman of Verizon was Ivan Seidenberg, who is now the chairman of Ligado. Before becoming Attorney General, Barr also worked at Kirkland & Ellis, which previously represented Ligado when it was called LightSquared.
A DOJ spokesman told POLITICO that Barr had neither represented Ligado in his current or previous incarnations, nor had any financial stake in the company. Barr highlighted Ligado for the first time in his February speech, in which he suggested that the FCC must open these radio waves so that the United States could compete with Beijing.
“I was pleased to see that he received this level of attention,” said Doug Smith, CEO of Ligado, POLITICO during an interview in February, suggesting that Barr’s comments “sharpened the profile of the problem.”
“He helped draw more attention to what I love,” added Smith. “It is what we need.”
Ligado has spent a lot of money lobbying in the past few quarters, spending more than $ 2.5 million last year, and hiring Schlapp and other lobbyists to target Trump 5G consultants like Larry Kudlow.
Some Ligado supporters blame the executive agencies for their obstacles, which overstate the risk of illuminating these radio waves with advanced wireless connectivity.
“As the US is working to lead the world in 5G innovation – and we are working to promote broader coverage here in the US – it is all the more important to ensure that valuable mid-band spectrum is used,” said Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Ligado, a Virginia company, has been going back and forth for years when the problem has been investigated and re-examined. I encourage the Commission to approve this draft regulation without delay. “
The CTIA trading group, which represents mobile operators such as AT&T and Verizon, is “pleased to see that the FCC has managed to cut red tape,” said General Counsel Tom Power, suggesting that the US need to learn lessons to help To respond to radio waves. faster and more collaborative. “
Barr and a few other industry advocates, including Ligado himself, have suggested that the radio waves in question could pair well with 5G-friendly C-band radio waves that Pai plans to sell to mobile operators in December. If cellular operators accept such a pairing, New Street Research could try to sell its range before this December auction, according to New Street Research in an analyst report on Thursday.
“The Ligado regulation should have been passed years ago,” said Michael Calabrese, a telecommunications specialist who works for the Think Tank New America. “While it is encouraging that Chairman Pai opposes the federal agency’s unreasonable efforts to block more efficient use of the spectrum, the compromises needed to overcome the Balkanization and NIMBYism that overwhelm Trump’s inconsistent frequency policy Interfere with government, discouraging. “
He compared the situation with Pai’s struggles with the DOT to use a different frequency band, which according to the DOT should be reserved for automotive safety technology rather than unlicensed applications such as Wi-Fi. “In both cases, the FCC did what the policy allowed, but not what the agency would have done only because of the technical and economic benefits,” Calabrese argued.
However, a broad mix of industries remains deeply skeptical of Ligado’s claims and is looking forward to the order proposed by the FCC Chairman, the text of which is not yet public.
Airlines such as Delta and Southwest are joining FedEx, a trading group of 911 public security officials, and defense company Lockheed Martin to urge the FCC to close the case.
“Given Ligado’s failure to adequately address the harmful disruptions at the heart of its proposals and the intricate and dated records for this process, the most appropriate action for the FCC is to resolve Ligado applications by completing the related files to reject, “they said the Commission on Thursday.