Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe is spearheading an effort to protect American consumers and businesses from possible damage to Global Positioning Satellite services and satellite communications. The harm, he and others believe, will result from interference by a new 5G network approved last year by the Federal Communications Commission.
Sen. Inhofe introduced bipartisan legislation Wednesday, the RETAIN GPS Act, that would hold Ligado Networks — the company whose application the FCC approved — financially responsible if their network diminishes the reliability of existing GPS services or satellite communications
"In other words," said Sen. Inhofe, (R) OK, "if Ligado messes up, they have to pay for it."
At a press conference at the Capitol Wednesday morning, Inhofe said it's wrong to expect businesses and individuals to pay to replace or repair GPS or SatCom equipment rendered unreliable due to the Ligado network’s interference.
"How do we know that Ligado will cause interference? The FCC told us when they approved the Ligado order,” the Senator stated, answering his own question.
The FCC’s April 2020 order authorizes Ligado to operate a high-power terrestrial communication network in a portion of the spectrum, the L-Band, that's right next to the band for GPS.
Ligado has argued that the FCC looked at all relevant issues and had all the necessary authority to make that decision.
But included in the FCC order and cited as proof by Sen. Inhofe and other critics that the FCC is aware the network will interfere with its L-Band neighbor is this: “Ligado shall expeditiously repair or replace, as needed, any U.S. government GPS devices that experience or are likely to experience harm for interference from Ligado‘s operations.”
Supporters of Inhofe’s bill, of which there are many, say protecting federal agencies isn’t enough when you consider the many ways GPS and satellite communications are used in the private sector.
For example, it's estimated that 100 million cars in the U.S. utilize GPS in some fashion. Truckers and farmers also use GPS in their vehicles.
"If Ligado is going to damage satellite communication and GPS," said Diana Furchtgott-Roth. a former official with the Department of Transportation, "it should pay the costs of ordinary Americans with their cars, their trucks and their tractors, not just the cost of the federal government."
Robert McDowell, a former FCC Commission under Presidents Bush and Obama and now representing one of more than 80 firms publicly opposed to the FCC's decision, said the agency usually gets it right, but didn't in this case.
"Spectrum engineers from across the private sector and 14 federal agencies opposed the FCC’s action," said McDowell, "but it went ahead anyway. It is estimated that the harmful interference caused by land-based radio emissions by Ligado could cost the American economy billions and billions of dollars by impairing satellite communications and GPS services."
Beyond Senator Inhofe’s bill, there is a serious effort underway to get the FCC to reconsider the Ligado order before the company can deploy its network. That petition is pending.