January 19, 2021

AGU and others send letter to Congress on Ligado Order

Posted by Caitlin Bergstrom

On 19 January 2021, AGU and other organizations sent a letter to Congressional leadership to petition the FCC and reconsider the Ligado Order.


We write to you today in response to the overwhelming bipartisan support Congress has expressed, in the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (“NDAA”), for addressing the harmful interference that would be caused by the initial Ligado Order. A broad cross- section of commercial and federal users across industries and professions rely on L-band satellite services, which are fundamental to our economy, national security, and safety. Given Congress’ decision to codify multiple provisions aimed at the “devastating, not to mention costly,” impacts of the initial Ligado Order, we respectfully urge the Federal Communications Commission (“Commission”) to grant the pending request for an immediate stay and reconsider that decision.


As you are aware, the NDAA included provisions that: (1) require an independent technical review of the Ligado Order; (2) require the Department of Defense (“DoD”) to submit an estimate to Congress of the full range of damages caused by the Order to the Federal government; (3) prohibit DoD from contracting with any entity that engages in terrestrial service in the L-band absent a certification from the Defense Secretary that such service does not cause harmful interference to any DoD Global Positioning System (“GPS”) devices; and (4) prohibit DoD’s use of taxpayer funds made available via the NDAA to mitigate the damages incurred by DoD. As one of the NDAA’s principal authors stated, those provisions were necessary because Ligado’s proposed terrestrial network would “jeopardize our Nation’s [GPS], impacting not just the military and commercial aviation” but the aerospace, agriculture, aviation, construction, ground transportation, mapping, marine, meteorological, public safety, satellite communications, and surveying industries and professionals, as well as all those who rely on L-band satellite operations. Indeed, the provisions were supported by what the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee termed one of the “largest group[s]” that has “ever come together” in opposition to an agency decision, including fourteen federal agencies and departments, a broad coalition of industries and professions, and the American people who use L-band services every day.


To ensure that the objectives of the NDAA provisions and the intent of Congress can be achieved, the Commission must act on the pending and broadly supported request of NTIA and stay the initial Ligado Order. Absent a stay, Ligado could move forward with deployments, potentially mooting the Congressional requirement of an independent technical evaluation of Ligado’s proposed network and complicating further remedial efforts. As the Commission has long recognized, an agency must ensure that its actions do not render statutory provisions “superfluous” – which is precisely what would happen if Ligado remained able to move forward before the congressionally prescribed evaluation occurred.

Likewise, failure to issue the requested stay would frustrate Congress’s purpose in mandating independent review. Even when Congress has been silent on the specific question at hand, an agency is required to act “consistent with the congressional purpose.”


Failure to stay the Ligado Order, and to thereby respect that congressional purpose, would be especially problematic given Congress’s clear view that the Ligado Order insufficiently and/or erroneously assessed the real-world risks of the harmful interference that would be caused by Ligado’s proposed terrestrial network, which itself militates strongly in favor of a stay.


In light of the clear and unambiguous intent of Congress to “protect[] our low-band spectrum from interference,” we strongly urge the Commission to stay and reconsider the Ligado Order.


Read the full letter here.