Federal regulators are poised to approve a plan by Ligado Networks LLC for a mobile broadband network over objections from the U.S. Defense Department, which says the service threatens to interfere with military GPS operations.
Three of five members of the Federal Communications Commission have voted for the proposal that would open more airwaves for fast 5G networks, said an agency official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter hasn’t been made public. The tally won’t be final until all five members have voted in the agency’s closed-door procedure; in theory votes could change although that is a rare occurrence.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Thursday recommended approval of the plan backed by private equity that was stalled for years over interference concerns.
Ligado wants to modify use of an airwaves swath it controls to accommodate a speedy wireless network. It portrays the proposal as a fit with the Trump administration’s push to deploy fast 5G mobile service.
Critics fear Ligado’s transmissions would overwhelm faint GPS signals. The top members of both armed services committees in Congress opposed the plan, as did Pentagon officials and civilian agencies including the Federal Aviation Administration.
Pai earlier said he was proposing stringent conditions to prevent interference. Ligado will “make more efficient use of underused spectrum and promote the deployment of 5G,” Pai said in a statement posted online.
The fight shows how rivalries over airwaves are growing as more services move to wireless, and pressure builds for more frequencies to accommodate them. For instance, electric utilities have objected to the FCC’s plan for them to share airwaves with Wi-Fi.
Reston, Virginia-based Ligado faces due dates in December on $4.6 billion in debt.
Earlier objections over possible interference forced the company, then called LightSquared Inc. and controlled by financier Philip Falcone, into bankruptcy in 2012. It since has offered a revised plan it said will lessen prospects of GPS interference. The company has reduced power levels and said it wouldn’t use some of its airwaves.
LightSquared emerged from bankruptcy and was renamed Ligado with owners including JPMorgan Chase & Co., the private equity firm Centerbridge Capital Partners LP, and Fortress Investment Group LLC, and Falcone holding a minority stake. Its chairman is Ivan Seidenberg, former chief executive officer of Verizon Communications Inc.