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FCC rejects request by U.S. agencies to halt Ligado network approval


By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Communications Commission late Tuesday voted 3-2 to reject a bid by U.S. government agencies to freeze its decision to allow Ligado Networks to deploy a nationwide mobile broadband network.

In May, the U.S. Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration filed a request with the FCC on behalf of executive branch agencies, including the Defense and Transportation departments, arguing the commission's approval would cause "irreparable harms to federal government users" of global positioning systems (GPS).

The FCC said Ligado's deployment plans are not finalized and it is in talks with U.S. agencies about the network's potential impact on government GPS systems. The decision came a day before President-elect Joe Biden takes office and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai steps down.

"We must continue to move forward to ensure next-generation wireless services are available, and to do so, we must put this long-underused spectrum to its best use," Pai said in a statement. "The technical evidence in our record continues to demonstrate that the FCC made the correct decision."

The Air Line Pilots Association, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, International Air Transport Association and Airlines for America, Iridium Communications and Lockheed Martin last year also filed petitions asking the FCC to reconsider.

Ligado did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The FCC rejection of the stay request noted Ligado must provide six months notice to GPS manufacturers prior to activation and must negotiate network partnership agreements, and secure $800 million in the capital markets to fund its infrastructure build-out.

FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington, who voted to reject the stay, said the agency has not evaluated the merits of the request for reconsideration. He noted Congress required a definitive technical review of the Ligado spectrum order by the National Academies of Sciences.

"There is sufficient time to develop a conclusive scientific record on broadly accepted standards and thus to make disinterested, rigorous public policy," Simington said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Lincoln Feast.)

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