FCC Flips the Bird to Boaters

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A controversial order by the Federal Communications Commission, which slipped through in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, could threaten the reliability of hundreds of millions of GPS units, according to BoatU.S., the nation’s largest advocacy, services and safety group for recreational boaters.

BoatU.S. says an April 22 decision by the Federal Communications Commission to give mobile satellite services operator Ligado Networks, a private equity company, the green light to build and operate a land-based industrial 5G (fifth generation) wireless network will negatively impact the reliability of the nation’s Global Positioning System and harm boating safety.

The FCC decision would give Ligado a slice of licensed “L-Band” spectrum designated for space-based navigation and communications that is located near lower frequency bands used by hundreds of millions of GPS units in public safety, health, government, transportation, military, commerce, agriculture and recreational activities.

BoatU.S. is a founding member of the recently launched Keep GPS Working Coalition and believes that Ligado’s network will increasingly interfere with GPS signals as their 5G system is implemented. This will force current GPS users to purchase new GPS units or potentially suffer continued interference, which could lead to dangerous consequences.

The coalition said that the FCC’s decision disregarded mountains of evidence highlighting the interference issue and was made during the Covid-19 pandemic when a final decision was circulated only among the five FCC commissioners as stakeholders were dealing with the health crisis.

According to BoatU.S., the commission also ignored serious concerns from the federal government as well as agencies, including the departments of Defense, Transportation, Commerce, Interior, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as NASA, the National Science Foundation, Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Coast Guard. The FCC decision was slammed by Pentagon officials who cited it as a national security risk.

“With this decision, FCC is permitting one private company to upend the entire reliability of GPS,” said BoatU.S. Manager of Government Affairs David Kennedy. “It’s unfathomable that the lone federal caretaker of our national radio spectrum shows such disregard, even after admitting there are cases where federal and private GPS users will suffer harmful interference. It’s a message that in essence says, ‘tough luck’—you are on your own.”

In May of this year, Ligado announced $100 million in new funding from unnamed sources. Ligado was formerly named LightSquared. That company was forced into bankruptcy when in 2010 the FCC cited unresolved concerns over radio spectrum interference with GPS on LightSquared’s proposed 4G LTE network.

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