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US seeks dismissal of Ligado’s $40 billion roadblocked 5G spectrum claim

TAMPA, Fla. — The United States government has called on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to throw out a lawsuit from Ligado Networks seeking $40 billion over the company’s derailed wireless network plans.
Ligado filed the lawsuit against the United States and a group of federal agencies in October, claiming they roadblocked efforts to deploy assigned L-band satellite spectrum terrestrially so the Department of Defense could use the frequencies instead.
The Federal Communications Commission gave Ligado permission in 2020 to roll out a 5G network with the frequencies. However, the plans ground to a halt two years later after what the company said was a misinformation campaign over the potential for GPS interference.
In addition to the United States, Ligado is suing the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Commerce (DoC), and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
Attorneys for the government filed a motion Jan. 25 to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the court lacks jurisdiction because the Communications Act requires an exclusive administrative and judicial review framework for such claims arising out of FCC licensing decisions.
Even if the U.S. Court of Federal Claims had jurisdiction, the attorneys said Ligado could not claim these property rights for an intangible license.
“Indeed, no court has held that an FCC license is property for takings purposes,” they wrote in a Jan. 25 motion to dismiss the lawsuit, “and the Court with primary jurisdiction over FCC licensing matters — the D.C. Circuit — has held that FCC licenses are not property under the Takings Clause.”
A so-called takings claim — for when the government seizes private property for public use — also requires the government action at issue to be authorized and lawful, the motion continues, whereas Ligado alleges its FCC license was blocked unlawfully.
Spectrum accusation
In the Oct. 12 lawsuit, Ligado claimed the DoD had been using the L-band frequencies without providing compensation.
The lawsuit cited testimony from senior government officials that referred to the DoD’s use of Ligado’s spectrum, including a letter sent in 2022 to the heads of the DoD, DoC, and NTIA.
In the letter, U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) said they had learned of DoD concerns about Ligado’s 5G plans that stem from their potential to interfere with federal systems. The use of the spectrum for these federal systems was not disclosed to the FCC before the spectrum regulator approved Ligado’s proposed terrestrial network in 2020.
Ligado said details about DoD’s use of its spectrum have not been publicly disclosed, but that multiple senior government officials have told the company the DoD needs all of its spectrum authorized for wireless terrestrial 5G services.
“These officials also told Ligado that DoD needs this spectrum both exclusively and permanently,” the company said in the October lawsuit.
The Jan. 26 motion for dismissal said Ligado had not pleaded “any plausible facts to support its purely speculative claim that the Government has occupied its licensed spectrum.”
The motion also said Ligado had not identified any authorized government action that prevented it from using its modified license.
Ligado put its terrestrial wireless plans on hold after a review released in September 2022 by the congressionally-mandated National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine warned they would likely interfere with some GPS signals and Iridium’s space-based communications services.
The latest twist in a long-running saga
Ligado said Jan. 26 it continues to stand firmly by its original complaint and is working on a reply to the government’s motion.
“As set out in the company’s lawsuit, government officials deliberately deprived Ligado of its rightfully licensed property, and the government must be held accountable,” a company spokesperson said via email.
“This attack on an American business by the world’s most powerful institution is contrary to the rule of law and antithetical to the government’s years-long support for the deployment of 5G technology as a vital national priority.”
Iridium, which also operates in L-band, and other Ligado critics have repeatedly called on the FCC to reverse its 2020 approval, which included restrictions to guard against interference.
The DoD, DoC, and NTIA had once supported the development of the company’s plans to use satellite spectrum for a terrestrial network, Ligado noted in an Oct. 13 news release.
However, Ligado said the DoD reversed course in 2018 and sought to instead block the network through a misinformation campaign that used a threat to GPS devices as the pretext, with the DoC and NTIA following soon after.

web-intern@dakdan.com

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