Setting the Record Straight: The RETAIN Act & U.S. Leadership on 5G
By: J. David Grossman, Executive Director, GPS Innovation Alliance July 8, 2021
As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously stated: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” A July 1st blog post from the Free State Foundation (FSF) chooses to ignore these sage words… conflating fact with opinion when it comes to the recently introduced RETAIN Act, and the events following the FCC’s April 2020 Ligado decision. In opposing the RETAIN Act, FSF and other Ligado allies effectively admit what GPSIA, other key stakeholders, including 14 federal agencies and even the FCC have said all along – Ligado’s Network will interfere with millions of GPS devices.  That is why the FCC required Ligado to develop a program to repair or replace federal government devices that suffer interference from Ligado’s operations. The RETAIN Act merely finishes the job by extending the same economic protection to others whose GPS-enabled equipment may be disrupted by Ligado. To do otherwise would be to ignore the economic impact and safety implications that Ligado’s network poses to our nation’s farmers, first responders, pilots, local municipalities, and consumers, and instead shield Wall Street speculators from obligations based on the harm their system will cause before they make billions by flipping the L-Band spectrum as quickly as possible. It is ironic that FSF -- an organization that purports to promote free market principles -- would support a proposal that effectively subsidizes a company’s new spectrum use by shifting costs to consumers.
Not only is a requirement that Ligado cover these costs fair to owners of GPS devices that will be affected by the FCC’s decision, it is consistent with FCC precedent – those who are using re-purposed spectrum are always required to remediate the negative effects they cause to other spectrum users. Ligado’s refusal to play by these same rules reflects that it knows there is an incumbent base of more than 900 million GPS receivers and devices that could require repair or replacement if its network is activated. FSF also repeats the canard that Ligado should not pay for repair or replacement because some GPS devices are capable of receiving Ligado’s spectrum. This simplistic talking point ignores the laws of physics, which dictate that high powered transmissions in one band can easily overload GPS devices designed to receive faint satellite signals in adjacent bands. FSF also ignores the essential fact that many high precision receivers receive Ligado’s signals because Ligado is using satellite spectrum for its terrestrial services and users have paid Ligado to transmit other navigation related data over its satellites, a business Ligado is happy to abandon to reap profits from repurposing its spectrum for terrestrial use – all the more reason that Ligado should be required to clean up the mess that it makes. FSF’s blog post also ignores the relevant history that shows how flawed the FCC’s April 2020 decision was, emphasizing that the original decision was adopted unanimously, 5-0. Since that time:
Eight petitions for reconsideration filed with the FCC, including by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on behalf of the executive branch of the U.S. government.
NTIA submitted to the FCC, a more than 400-page technical memorandum, serving to supplement its previously filed petition for reconsideration.
Two FCC Commissioners, who voted for the original April 2020 Order, after hearing the arguments of NTIA and other stakeholders, voted to ‘stay’ the decision so that the FCC could take a closer look at the interference issues.
Congress, through the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, required an independent technical study by the National Academies, among other critical provisions.
FSF is wrong on the merits too. The RETAIN Act would not “restrain America’s 5G future.” The RETAIN Act is no barrier to achieving U.S. leadership on 5G. As GPSIA has previously explained, Ligado’s spectrum blocks of 10 noncontiguous megahertz, represents less than 1 percent of the spectrum the FCC has auctioned or proposed be made available for 5G services. The FCC is making hundreds of megahertz of mid-band spectrum available for 5G services on a shared or exclusive basis, including a 100-megahertz block at 3.45-3.55 GHz that is set for auction later this year. GPSIA supports these efforts which show that 5G can be achieved without undermining U.S. Global Positioning System receivers and devices.
And the related claim that Ligado will offer an “innovative network” is laughable. Ligado will add to its satellite service (service that others provide) a land-based narrowband Internet of Things (IoT) service. Ligado is a company with no operational experience, let alone a record of providing innovative terrestrial services. Others who have complete wireless networks already offer this. Therefore, while threatening GPS, Ligado brings nothing new to the table. Nor does 3GPP approval actually mean that Ligado’s spectrum can or will be used internationally. Incorporation of Ligado’s spectrum in a 3GPP standard is no endorsement by 3GPP that Ligado’s network will operate without causing harmful interference or will be commercially useful or successful.
We are grateful for the leadership of Senator Inhofe, and a bipartisan group of cosponsors for their introduction of the RETAIN Act and standing with American consumers. The economic consequences of inaction are simply too great.
 Consistent with the terms of their litigation settlements with Ligado, Garmin International, Inc and Deere & Company do not affirmatively endorse or oppose the deployment of Ligado’s proposed mobile communications network. To the extent this blog post discusses Ligado’s deployment of its proposed 5G mobile communications network (or any interference therefrom), GPSIA is not authorized, and does not purport, to speak for Garmin and Deere.