Ligado Networks is trying to put the pedal to the metal with a filing that invokes Section 7 of the Communications Act, which states that the FCC should act on a petition or application like Ligado’s within one year after it’s filed—and for Ligado, it’s been more than three years.
The problem, according to the filing (PDF), is no longer a debate about potential interference with GPS devices or power levels that might affect aviation. What’s holding it up appears to be a debate about politics (PDF)—one that pits the FCC against certain individuals in the Department of Commerce.
The filing references testimony by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at a Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing where he said the Department of Commerce has been blocking the FCC’s effort at every turn, a situation that worsened with the resignation of former National Telecommunications & Information Association (NTIA) head David Redl. Typically, the FCC works in concert with the NTIA on federal spectrum-related issues, but that relationship has been on rocky ground of late, with the 24 GHz band being one example.
For Ligado, what's at issue is 40 MHz of greenfield lower mid-band spectrum uniquely positioned to give the U.S. a major boost in the race to 5G, according to Ligado Networks President and CEO Doug Smith.
“Our lower mid-band spectrum is ready to support new innovation and services right away; no other band under consideration is as ready to deploy in the near term,” he said in a statement. “Our combined approach to technology and private network deployment will transform key industries like manufacturing, agriculture, commercial transportation, and utilities.”
Ligado is pioneering what it describes as a first-of-its-kind seamless satellite and terrestrial connectivity solution aimed at delivering 5G and IoT services to industrial customers via custom private networks. Such a proposal falls squarely within Section 7’s category of “new technology or service,” but it needs the commission to act promptly. It’s already spent years getting the GPS and aviation communities to sign off, and now it just needs the FCC’s blessing on its license modification applications.
Separately, Ligado also is interested in the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that it commenced for the 1675-1680 MHz band, which is expected to be auctioned at some point. The company reiterated in its June 25 filing, however, that it can participate in that auction “in a robust way” only if the license modification applications are approved.
Ligado argues that its mid-band spectrum not only provides coverage and capacity but also delivers the power and strength necessary to “vastly transform” America’s digital infrastructure. The spectrum in question is between 1.5 GHz and 1.6 GHz.
Clearly, Ligado and its investors are running out of patience. “Despite the urgency of 5G deployment, Ligado has spent the past three-and-a-half years waiting to use our long ago licensed spectrum to help deploy 5G for the country’s critical infrastructure sectors,” Smith said. “However, after bending over backwards to comply with government testing, requests, process and more process, Ligado’s application remains trapped in a web of government delays and indecision. The result is prime mid-band spectrum languishing at a time when U.S. leadership in 5G simply can’t afford it.”