The Federal Communications Commission’s decision in 2020 to allow satellite communications company Ligado Networks to construct a land-based, industrial 5G L-Band wireless network has caused an uproar that reaches well beyond the boating community.
Opponents have stated that the network will reduce the reliability of GPS for the hundreds of millions of units in use in public safety, health, government, transportation, military, commerce, agriculture and other sectors.
In response, a bipartisan group that includes U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Mike Rounds; and Tammy Duckworth introduced the Recognizing and Ensuring Taxpayer Access to Infrastructure Necessary for GPS and Satellite Communications Act of 2021, also known as the RETAIN Act.
The bill would require Ligado to earmark funds for businesses and consumers with GPS units affected by the 5G network. The FCC’s 2020 decision requires Ligado only to fund upgrades or replacement of federal government devices.
A wealth of business interests, including the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas and BoatUS, support the bill.
“GPS technology remains an integral tool for recreational boaters, and any interference with this important navigation aid puts our boaters’ safety at risk,” MRAA government relations manager Chad Tokowicz said in a statement. “The RETAIN Act seeks to assure that the risk for interference is mitigated by putting the responsibility on the right party, and we are pleased that these senators have taken the lead to champion the safety of our boaters today and into the future.”
David Kennedy, government relations manager for BoatUS, agreed.
“Boaters rely on the publicly funded GPS system, and it is fitting that any harm caused by the Ligado network to their GPS systems be remedied by the company,” Kennedy said. “Sen. Inhofe’s RETAIN Act will ensure this happens.”
A letter to fellow senators, signed by Duckworth, Inhofe and Rounds, states in part:
“The RETAIN Act acknowledges the harm to GPS and satellite communications end users, including consumers, the federal government and businesses, caused by the Ligado order, and ensures any associated cost is covered by Ligado. Furthermore, the RETAIN Act also sets forth various conditions that must be met by Ligado before they are able to deploy terrestrial operations in the bands adjacent to that of GPS.
“This legislation would ensure that the costs incurred by the public sector, businesses and consumers as a result of the FCC’s decision to permit Ligado Networks LLC to use spectrum in a way that would cause interference to GPS and satellite communications would be covered by Ligado — the licensee benefiting from the decision.”