Blog Editor’s Note: The author is President of the RNT Foundation.
Speaking at the National Press Club on November 3rd, Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel announced a plan to reorganize the agency to include a Space Bureau and a standalone Office of International Affairs.
The rationale for these moves, as explained in a press release, is to “…help ensure that the FCC’s resources are better aligned so that the agency can continue to fulfill its statutory obligations and keep pace with the rapidly changing realities of the satellite industry and global communications policy.”
While neither GPS nor Ligado were mentioned in the press release, some have taken establishment of a Space Bureau as a sign the FCC may be reconsidering its decision regarding Ligado Networks.
By creating a Space Bureau, the reasoning goes, the commission is acknowledging a need to better focus on space-based users. A report this summer from the National Academies of Science said that some GPS and Iridium users would be harmed if Ligado Networks is allowed to operate as planned.
Since the commission seems to be trying to prevent future Ligado-like controversies, it may also be ready to reconsider its Ligado decision. In February 2020 seven different petitions were filed by organizations and groups of organizations formally asking the FCC to reconsider. The commission has not yet responded to any of the petitions.
Few can disagree that aligning resources to more effective address constituent concerns is a good idea. At the same time reorganizations rarely, in and of themselves, prevent problems from recurring.
As one example, the FCC had been criticized for years for not including analyses of total costs and benefits to the nation of decisions it was considering. In January 2018, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai established the FCC’s Office of Economic Analysis to address those concerns.
Yet, despite Pai still being Chair, the Office of Economic Analysis was not called upon to provide input to the commission’s deliberations on Ligado Network’s application. One of the pending petitions for reconsideration asserts that if the office had done a cost-benefit analysis, the commission’s decision would have been different. This is because the cost of even a small service degradation for potentially millions of GPS users would have very likely easily outweighed any benefit to the nation of granting Ligado Networks permission to operate.