Image: RNT Foundation

Blog Editor’s Note:

The FCC rulemaking in favor of Ligado Networks in April 2020 stipulated that the company must compensate all federal GPS users for harm done to their systems and services. Last month, Senator Inhofe, working with a bi-partisan coalition, introduced the “RETAIN GPS and Satellite Communciations Act” in the Senate. The act would require the company to compensate all GPS users harmed by their transmissions.

Yesterday, Congressmen Cooper and Turner introduced the RETAIN Act in the House with a host of co-sponsors from both parties. To be successful identical measures must pass both the House and Senate before being sent to the President for signature.

In related news, the National Academy of Sciences seems to be assembling a panel to examine the FCC’s technical analysis in its Ligado Networks decision. This project was mandated by the 2021 National Defense Authorizaiton Act and is being funded by the Department of Defense.

The question of the FCC’s technical analysis is an intriguing one as none was presented as a part of the published decision. 

Some observers have commented that, over the last few decades, the FCC has moved away from its technical and enforcement roots. This has resulted, they say, in the commission mostly just adjudicates issues based on the submissions it receives, vice doing a lot of its own technical analysis and research. We have heard reports that the number of engineers and technologists employed there has greatly fallen, while the number of attorneys has increased. Also that, unlike other federal agencies, the FCC is reluctant to use independent advisory panels to receive input on technical issues

This was undoubtedly a factor in the FCC recently being criticized in a House hearing for a lack of transparency in its decision making process and failure to coordinate sufficiently with the executive branch. We hope to post more on that soon.


Turner Cosponsors Bipartisan ‘RETAIN’ Act

July 222021

Congressman Mike Turner (OH-10) announced that he will serve as a cosponsor of the bipartisan Recognizing and Ensuring Taxpayer Access to Infrastructure Necessary for GPS and Satellite Communications Act ‘RETAIN’ which was introduced by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) today. This legislation requires Ligado, a private American satellite communications company, to cover the cost for correcting any interference their operations create for the public or private sector. The House RETAIN Act mirrors Senator Jim Inhofe’s bill which also works to make our GPS and satellite communication services more reliable and secure.

Additional original co-sponsors include, Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA), Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK). Post-introduction, the cosponsors of the legislation made the following statements:

“The FCC’s April 2020 Ligado order represented a challenge to our national security with the harm it posed to equipment critical to the Department of Defense, not to mention to the GPS equipment spanning multiple industries, because of one company’s actions.  The RETAIN Act sets a precedent that this cannot occur without assigning financial responsibility for the harmful impacts of what the order authorizes,”said Rep Turner.“Both our nation’s military and ordinary Americans rely on satellites and GPS, whether it be in ensuring our national security or to tasks inherent to our daily lives like driving to work, using the ATM, or calling a friend. It is because of this utmost importance that I am supporting the RETAIN Act.”

“Our GPS and satellite communications are critical to the American economy and our national security. The bipartisan RETAIN Act protects these networks by ensuring that any costs caused by private sector interference to their frequencies is covered by the private sector, not the U.S. taxpayer,” said Rep. JIm Cooper.

“Central Virginians rely on GPS and satellite communications every day — including those who depend on weather, aviation, precision agriculture, and intelligence-related satellites. The FCC’s Ligado Order did not go far enough to prevent interference with these GPS systems, meaning the Ligado Network has rendered many pieces of equipment unusable due to interference,” said Rep Abigail Spanberger. “We need to take common sense steps to protect devices and defend both public and private infrastructure networks. This legislation would help reduce the high cost of GPS interference, while also protecting consumers. I am proud to stand with my House colleagues in introducing the bipartisan and bicameral RETAIN Act, because without proper accountability, many industries would no longer be able to operate at full capacity — and taxpayers and consumers would face higher costs.”

“Satellite communications and GPS networks ensure multiple sectors of the American economy can innovate and outperform our international competitors,” said Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee. “These innovations also require safeguards and accountability, which the RETAIN Act will provide, particularly in the agricultural sector.”

“The RETAIN Act would extend economic protection to any GPS-enabled equipment disrupted by Ligado, finishing the job FCC started with earlier regulatory action,” said Rep. Don Beyer. “We cannot ignore the economic impact and safety implications that Ligado’s network poses to our nation’s first responders, pilots, local municipalities, and consumers. This bill is a commonsense measure for Virginia’s 8th District and I’m proud to support it.”

“Critical communication systems are essential for consumers, businesses and our government. I’m proud to cosponsor the RETAIN Act which will help protect this fundamental infrastructure, our economy and our national security,” said Rep. Ken Calvert

“Countless Oklahomans, including military personnel, agriculture workers, commercial and civil aviation officials, weather forecasters, and first responders, rely on GPS and satellite communications throughout their daily lives. While the FCC has ordered Ligado Networks to be held responsible for their interference, the FCC Ligado Order fails to hold Ligado completely responsible across both public and private sector infrastructure. The majority of GPS devices in the United States are used by consumers- these costs mustn’t be passed to them. I’m proud to join Representatives Mike Turner, Jim Cooper, and other House colleagues in introducing the RETAIN Act, ensuring all costs are rightly upheld on Ligado and not taxpayers and consumers,” said Congressman Frank Lucas.

Read the full text of the bill here.