FCC Moves Forward with L-Band Proceeding | Citizens Against Government Waste

FCC Moves Forward with L-Band Proceeding

The WasteWatcher

For more than five years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been reviewing an application by Ligado Networks to build a terrestrial Internet of Things (IoT) network using L-Band spectrum originally approved for satellite use.  This mid-band spectrum will enhance the connection of more devices to 5G networks.  Of note, the Ligado application for 5G was preceded by a 2010 application by LightSquared for 4G use, meaning the regulatory process has taken 10 years.

On April 16, 2020, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the agency will be moving forward with this proceeding and circulated a draft order noting that the agency has “compiled an extensive record, which confirms that it is in the public interest to grant Ligado’s application while imposing stringent conditions to prevent harmful interference.  The draft order that I have presented to my colleagues would make more efficient use of underused spectrum and promote the deployment of 5G and Internet of Things services.”

The FCC has the engineering expertise to determine the best use of this spectrum and whether alternative uses would cause undue interference.  The adoption of the Chairman’s draft order will promote 5G and IoT development, while providing the necessary safeguards for services using adjacent bands, including GPS positioning.

The FCC’s decision was welcome news for not only 5G development, but also to the signers of a December 16, 2019 coalition letter that expressed support for the agency’s “efforts to accelerate America’s superiority in 5G, including injecting more mid-band spectrum into the marketplace, updating infrastructure policy, and modernizing outdated regulations.  The swift, efficient deployment of next-generation wireless technology will lead to faster data speeds, more responsive networks, and the ability to connect multiple devices at the same time.  Moreover, 5G will contribute to a stronger American economy –creating 3 million new jobs, $500 billion in economic growth, and $275 billion in new investment.”  The letter added that “the L-Band is a near-term opportunity that is uniquely suited for 5G deployment and is highly complementary to other spectrum bands already before the Commission, including the C-Band, CBRS, and mmW spectrum.  These frequencies have languished in an endless cycle of regulatory review for nearly a decade, and we encourage the FCC to act this year to make this critical, greenfield, mid-band spectrum available. Upon approval, utilization of these airwaves can fuel the U.S. economy and be immediately deployed to benefit critical industries such as manufacturing, utilities, and transportation.”

The coalition cited the “dysfunction of the bureaucracy” and delays by “DoT, DoD, DoE, DoC, NASA, NOAA –in proceeding after proceeding –24 GHz, 5.9 GHz, 2.5 GHz, 3.1-3.55 GHz, L-band, and 6 GHz – … to block the introduction of more spectrum into the market which threatens to stifle innovation and hurt the economy.”  For L-band, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Department of Defense (DOD) have maintained they needed to keep control of this spectrum due to concerns about interference with adjacent bands, and for unspecified future technologies that have not been developed and have no set development date.  While some of the foregoing agencies are using their spectrum allocation for important uses, much of it has been underutilized or unused. Yet, they dislike relinquishing control over this resource once they get it into their hands.  The 5.9 GHz spectrum allocation is a good example, as wresting control of most of that spectrum from the Department of Transportation was no mean feat.  

The L-band would not be used at all for the foreseeable future unless the FCC takes action.  Freeing up the spectrum requested by Ligado will not only expand the use of 5G, it will also help to prevent other countries, particularly China, from getting ahead of the U.S. in 5G deployment. 

Since its initial application was submitted, Ligado has responded to the concerns raised by NTIA and DOD by making significant modifications to its power levels for using this spectrum to minimize any future interference issues.  The FCC’s draft order should be accepted so the country can continuing moving forward with IoT and expanded 5G deployment.