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BoatUS Sounds the Alarm About Potential GPS Fiasco

A new, land-based 5G network threatens the reliability of GPS.

“Tough Luck!” That’s what the Federal Communications Commission seems to be saying to all recreational boaters who rely on the accuracy of GPS, and the Boat Owners Association of The United States is bringing the issue to light.

A controversial FCC order threatens the reliability of millions of GPS units now in use be the nation’s recreation boaters. A decision in late April gave a mobile satellite services operator, Ligado Networks, approval to build and operate a land-based industrial 5G wireless network that will negatively impact the reliability of the nation’s GPS.

Specifically, a BoatUS investigation has determined Ligado’s slice of licensed “L-Band” spectrum, designated for space-based navigation and communications, is located near lower frequency bands. These are the bands used by hundreds of millions of GPS units for public safety, health, government, transportation, military, commerce, agriculture and more.

BoatUS is a founding member of the recently launched Keep GPS Working Coalition. Their study indicates that as the Ligado network is rolled out, instances of signal interference will rapidly increase.

The bottom line? Current GPS users will be either have to purchase a new GPS unit or suffer the likelihood of continued interference.

According to the coalition, the FCC’s decision totally disregarded mountains of evidence highlighting the interference issue. It also ignored established technical standards. Further, the FCC relied only on limited studies with vague and impractical criteria to access the interference.

And, this dangerous move was made during the covid-19 pandemic with a final decision circulated only among the five FCC commissioners — while the stakeholders were dealing with the unprecedented health crisis.

If that’s not enough, this should make your jaw drop. The commission also ignored serious concerns from the federal government and agencies including the Departments of Defense, Transportation, Commerce, Interior, Justice and Homeland Security. Also, NASA, the National Science Foundation, Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Coast Guard.

“With this decision,” said David Kennedy, BoatUS Manager of Government Affairs, “the FCC is permitting one private company to upend the entire reliability of GPS. It’s unfathomable that the lone federal caretaker of our national radio spectrum shows such disregard, even after admitting there are cases where federal and private GPS users will suffer harmful interference. It’s a message that in essence says ‘tough luck’ – you are on your own.”

Here’s even more that will make you angry. Ligado’s former name was LightSquared. Remember back in 2010 the FCC suspended consideration of LightSquared’s proposal to use its licensed spectrum for a 4G LTE network citing unresolved concerns over radio spectrum interference with GPS. It forced the company into bankruptcy. But in May of this year, Ligado announced $100 million in new funding from unnamed sources.

A move by a federal agency that results in the loss of a reliable GPS signal should not be allowed to stand. Any signal loss or interference resulting in a misdirection at a critical navigational point is a safety concern of the highest order for any vessel operator relying on this popular and widely used technology.

Along with BoatUS, four other organizations representing thousands of companies and millions of Americans have launched a new coalition to protect end users of GPS. Updates and more can be found here. 

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