Ligado’s 1675-1680 MHz Band Petition Panned by Users of NOAA Data

June 22, 2016–A petition for rulemaking filed by Ligado Networks LLC asking the FCC to allocate and auction the 1675-1680 megahertz band for shared commercial use with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is drawing opposition from public and private entities that rely on NOAA satellites to provide weather and other environmental data. Some parties oppose the allocation outright, while others say the FCC should not adopt it unless all users of NOAA data are protected or more study is conducted. But some commercial wireless interests and public interest groups support the petition. For its part, Ligado reiterated that spectrum sharing could be accommodated without causing interference and that non-federal users of the weather and other data could get the information via an alternative terrestrial system. But the critics expressed skepticism that such a terrestrial system would work. Comments were filed in Rulemaking 11681 by yesterday’s deadline in response to a public notice released in April seeking to update and refresh the FCC’s record on a petition filed in 2012 by Ligado’s predecessor company, LightSquared (TRDaily, April 22).

In its comments, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) stressed the importance of accurate and timely information on meteorology, climatology, hydrology, and related geophysical sciences developments, noting that data from weather satellites are used to provide “warning of natural and environmental disasters and detailed understanding of the status of global water resources.” It said that “the risk of interference in these bands in unprotected sites is of significant concern since it is expected that regulations will include provisions that only select U.S. federal government sites will be protected, akin to the recent AWS-3 sale of spectrum. The recent evidence that has emerged about interference from terrestrial wireless signals in an adjacent band that disrupted downlinks from current GOES [geostationary orbiting environmental satellites] satellites is of grave concern to WMO and NMHSs (national meteorological and hydrological services], especially in hurricane prone areas of the western hemisphere.”

WMO also said that obtaining NOAA satellite data via the Internet, as Ligado has suggested, “is not a reliable solution during many weather hazard situations, especially hurricanes. It is crucial for forecasters and emergency managers, especially in hurricane prone areas, to be able to receive crucial geostationary satellite data without delay due to internet outages, which his often the first utility to be lost during severe weather.” The American Meteorological Society (AMS) said it “is concerned that sharing the 1675-1680 MHz radio spectrum and resulting interference as a result of that sharing would limit the American weather enterprise’s access to timely weather satellite imagery and thus burdens the weather research and decision services that our members provide, with implications for the American public. Eliminating direct broadcast reception of weather satellite imagery would substantiate a risk of bandwidth limitations, data interruptions, subpar reliability, and unmet user needs.”

“Those advocating to share the 1675-1695 MHz radio spectrum have proposed a terrestrial delivery method to ameliorate concerns of interrupted access to GOES and GOES-R data,” AMS noted. “However, this proposal presents several obstacles to AMS members that are detrimental to the timeliness and reliability of the data flow. These are outlined without any specific designation of relative importance.”

For example, the group noted, “the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) currently provides a functional example of provisioning satellite imagery via a cloud service. JMA provides a cloud service of full resolution imagery from its Himawari-8 satellite to requesting national meteorological and hydrological services. The imager on Himawari-8 is very similar to that on GOES-R. In practice, despite its constraint on the number of users, the delivery method from the cloud service has not met the reliability standards that GRB users will require. By their nature, terrestrial networks have multiple points of failure based on the number of nodes the data transits. Outages of data have resulted from interruptions in paths between the cloud service and terminus users, and have lasted from hours to days, impacting operations.”

The intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO) noted that at the 2015 World Radiocommunication Conference, the 1675-1695 MHz band “was not selected for worldwide consideration to support international mobile telecommunications (IMT). Accordingly, GEO believes domestic use of portions of this band in the United States may result in actions in other countries, which could further destabilize the consistent access to the data that is critical to public safety, welfare, and the economy at large.”

The American Weather and Climate Industry Association (AWCIA) said, “The interference caused by the sharing of the 1675-1680 megahertz band will significantly threaten the distribution of crucial weather information by AWCIA members like AccuWeather, UNISYS Weather and WeatherBank, Inc., that the nation relies on to respond immediately with the highest quality information to dangerous weather like tornados, hurricanes and wildfires. AWCIA recommends that this spectrum not be shared with commercial interests.”

AccuWeather, Inc., said the “spectrum under consideration (1675-1680 MHz) is currently utilized for delivery of essential information used to saves lives, protect property and ensure the stability of the American economy. Therefore, this portion of the radio spectrum should not be shared for any other purpose. The proposal could affect the timely and accurate delivery of this critical information. The first time there is a major storm in which data was delayed or impaired will not only be a tragedy for the nation, but will be directly traceable to the spectrum changes contemplated here.”

“The suggestion that NOAA entities exist in ‘protected zones’ free of shared use in this part of the radio spectrum, creates serious concerns and will not be practical as many non-NOAA users, including AccuWeather, are involved in the creation and distribution of warnings and forecasts that directly save lives and protect property,” the company added. It also noted that Ligado “has suggested that NOAA could make the data available from the GOES and GOES-R series of satellites via terrestrial means, specifically the Internet, and that would satisfy the needs of non-NOAA end users. This is a false premise. There are a number of substantial concerns with transferring this data only via the Internet. First, the size of the GOES-R data given the increased spatial and temporal resolution as well as the increased number of bands will result in a significant expansion in the size of the dataset to be transferred. Transferring large datasets over the Internet with low-latency has proven to be a significant challenge as a result of potential issues between hosts on the open Internet and the inability to control the complete path of data packets over the many connected networks that make up the Internet.”

“We believe that radio frequency interference that can be generated from strong terrestrial downlinks that share the same spectrum as the relatively weak signals from GOES in space, would have a detrimental impact on the citizens and clients that rely on our services,” said the Weather Company, which owns the Weather Channel, adding “that this spectrum not be shared with commercial interests.”

The International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) said it “is deeply concerned that the FCC has chosen to seemingly ignore the concerns raised by our weather and water partner communities to ‘share’ the 1675-1680 MHz band between a potential commercial terrestrial broadband provider (Ligado) and the National [Oceanic] and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The American Meteorological Society (AMS), the National Weather Association, the National Hydrologic Warning Council, and the Lake Carriers’ Association have very effectively articulated the concerns and potential impact of ‘shared use’ of the spectrum used by NOAA weather satellites and the terrestrial sites that receive the data provided.”

IAEM stressed that its “members depend on reliable, accurate and direct, timely data as a basis for emergency management decisions related to floods and flash floods, water management, severe thunderstorms, tornados, wildland fires and hurricanes. Our members depend on the data to provide real-time information so we in turn can offer accurate and timely public warning and preparation instructions.  … We, in the emergency management community, believe sharing the spectrum will lead to missed warnings and directly threaten and interfere with our life saving mission across the country. As most of our members represent non-Federal entities, primarily local, county and state organizations, we will not be included in the ‘exclusion zones’ promoted by Ligado.”

“While the public notice updating Ligado’s request states their testing results show there will be no interference, we respectfully request that no action be taken to ‘share’ the spectrum until further studies and testing by or on behalf of the Federal Government (not an entity paid by Ligado) is planned, completed, and the results analyzed to ensure Ligado’s use of this spectrum will not interfere with our public safety mission,” IAEM added. “IAEM is very concerned that if the decision is made for this band to be auctioned as ‘shared use,’ there will be no going back, no way to ‘un-share’ the spectrum and no accountability when interference does occur.”

The National Hydrologic Warning Council (NHWC) urged the FCC “to safeguard current public safety uses of the 1675-1680 MHz spectrum band that specifically includes the Geostationary Orbiting Environmental Satellites (GOES) and the forthcoming GOES-Series-R satellites, which receive and transmit hydrologic data to ground receiving/downlink stations from thousands of sensors throughout the United States and its territories.” The NHWC asked the FCC to (1) “delay the comment process on this proceeding” to give impacted parties the chance to comment; (2) “provide protection and priority for the GOES-R satellite downlink 1675-1680 MHz spectrum band;” (3) “require a ‘prove-it-will-work’ period of several years showing that high-power commercial wireless service systems can safely co-occupy the nationally critical hydrometeorological spectrum without interrupting GOES downlink services;” and (4) “require a clear and fair process between the wireless service companies and the impacted federal and non-federal agencies for resolving spectrum use conflicts when they arise.”

The Interstate Council on Water Quality (ICWP) urged “the FCC to consider extending ‘protection zones’ to state, interstate and local agencies as these entities have both the mandated responsibility and a significant cost-share commitment to ensure the public is served with accurate and timely water resources information. Such protection is crucial to avoid the disruption of vital information used to ensure the nation’s economic health and national safety and security interests are safeguarded.”

The American Waterways Operators (AWO) said that its “members must have accurate, real-time information regarding water levels and flow rates, provided by river gauges. This river gauge data is conveyed via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite Data Collection System (GOES DCS), which is received in the 1675-1680 MHz radio spectrum. AWO members rely on NOAA’s geostationary satellites for the real-time transmission of information that directly impacts their navigation assessments and their vessels’ cargo carrying capacity and fuel utilization, and shipping costs for their customers.” “We urge the FCC to not move forward with this action unless adequate protection zones are extended to all relevant [U.S. Army] Corps [of Engineers’] sites,” AWO added. “Protection zones are crucial to avoid disrupting vital information transmitted via NOAA’s geostationary satellites. However, without more research on the impacts to our industry, AWO is not confident disruptive interference can be avoided. The sharing of the small amount of radio spectrum used to relay this critical maritime operational data must be weighed against the use of other bands where support of waterways safety and of such a major economic contributor as the tugboat, towboat and barge industry would not be a factor.”

 The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) said it “has significant concerns regarding the Federal Communication Commission’s plan to share 1675-1695 Megahertz radio spectrum (or portions thereof, such as 1675-1680 Megahertz) between a new terrestrial broadband wireless provider venture and long established government meteorological and oceanographic data providers. We are concerned that if the proposed spectrum sharing is allowed to proceed, interference is highly likely from terrestrial-based signals that are much stronger than those emitted from this satellite, which will likely disrupt critically important real-time information to ships and ports.” “We urge the FCC not to move forward with this action unless adequate protection zones are extended to PORTS related sites,” AAPA added. “Such protection is crucial to avoid the disruption of vital information used to ensure the nation’s economic health and national security interests are safeguarded. Without significant research customized to our industry community, we are not confident disruptive interference can be avoided and we will continue to oppose this effort for spectrum sharing.”

“Several of our nation’s priorities rely on the reliable and uninterrupted signal in the 1675 – 1680 MHz range of the spectrum. Maintenance of strong and robust satellite data acquisition is vital to saving lives, maintaining national security, ensuring a strong economy, and mitigating hazards,” said the American Geophysical Union (AGU). “These applications are simply too important to be put in jeopardy should signals experience interference due to spectrum sharing. We are concerned that any actions to share the 1675-1680 MHz will put American lives and property at risk.”

“With regard to sharing the spectrum with terrestrial cellular services, I am very concerned about the possibility of harmful interference jeopardizing the integrity of the planned earth station receivers,” said Brian Kopp, an assistant professor-electrical engineering at the University of North Florida who described the school’s use of NOAA’s GOES services. “Recalling the difficulties Lightsquared (Ligado’s predecessor) encountered with the GPS industry, the earth station receivers that use L-Band GOES downlink services, including DCS, EMWIN, LRIT, and the GOES Variable (GVAR) data service on the current GOES satellites, and DCS, HRIT/EMWIN, and the GOES Rebroadcast (GRB) service on the planned GOES R satellite are all using receiver and antenna technology that assumes no significant co-channel or adjacent spectrum interference. This was a significant issue for the receiver equipment used in the GPS industry.” Mr. Kopp said that “should the FCC permit the proposed changes to the spectrum then the terrestrial cellular service providers must be afforded secondary status so that cellular service providers will be responsible for mitigating any interference caused to current and future earth station receiver installations.” He also called on the FCC to take other steps, including establishing “a volunteer public database that documents current and future earth stations, deployed by authorized users, to communicate with the GOES satellite” and a “public database that lists the locations of all terrestrial fixed transmitters sharing the band.”

The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) said it “recommends the Commission proceed cautiously, given the importance of accurate and timely weather information to the public safety community, including emergency managers. Should the Commission decide to move forward with a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on spectrum sharing at 1675-1680 MHz, NPSTC recommends allowing the time needed for research and testing to ensure any proposed spectrum sharing in the band would not compromise the integrity of the weather information collection and dissemination by NWS, NOAA or private entities. “This research and testing should be conducted before any decision is made on spectrum sharing,” NPSTC added. “The research and testing should include participation by key stakeholders, including those who provide and use the critical weather information, in addition to Ligado or its representatives. Given radiosondes will use the 1675-1680 MHz spectrum at least until the current February 2021 deadline for transition to the 401-406 MHz band, a comprehensive program for credible research and testing should not otherwise delay terrestrial mobile service to the public, while it should provide great benefits for the Commission’s decision-making process on spectrum sharing.”

A number of state and local government agencies that rely on the NOAA satellites for meteorological and hydrologic data also expressed concerns about sharing of the 1675-1680 MHz band and said that if the FCC permits it, non-federal spectrum users should be part of protection zones. For example, Arizona State Parks said, “If this ruling is to pass, despite the potentially harmful impacts stated, Arizona State Parks needs assurance that state and local spectrum downlinks will be included in protected zones that minimize interference.”

The government of Canada said that departments in the government “are concerned about the potential for direct interference from mobile systems operating in the 1670-1680 MHz band deployed in proximity of the US-Canada border. … In the absence of scientific consensus, the stakeholder departments recommend that FCC apply the precautionary principle and not move forward with sharing with Ligado or any other terrestrial mobile provider.” Several other public and private Canadian entities also submitted comments in the proceeding.

The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) expressed “its continued concern over the plans put forward by New LightSquared LLC (hereinafter Ligado, its new name) requesting that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) initiate a rulemaking to allocate the 1675-1680 MHz band for terrestrial mobile use on a shared basis with federal use. Such sharing not only puts at risk the technologically advanced, soon-to-be-launched Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series (GOES-R) weather satellite, but also American commerce and public safety including emergency response, national and homeland security, and aviation safety — the last item being of especial importance to our community.” For example, AIA added, “power levels proposed are significant and will likely impact the adjacent band where GOES-R has a spectrally-efficient downlink just above 1680 MHz. The current receivers are open well below 1680 MHz since this is now an exclusive meteorological and MET aid band; they have already undergone filter redesign to protect from adjacent band interference from existing terrestrial services – which would not be adequate for these signals ten million times stronger than the desired satellite signal.”

The American Pilots’ Association (APA) said it ‘has significant concerns regarding the FCC’s plan to share the 1675-1680 MHz radio spectrum, which has long been used for the dissemination of important meteorological and oceanographic products, with Ligado (or any terrestrial broadband provider). As discussed above, APA member pilots rely upon these navigation safety services and are very concerned that this FCC proposal could interfere with the transmission of the products. We urge the FCC to not move forward with this action unless adequate protection zones are extended to all relevant NWLON, PORTS, N-COP and C-MAN sites that rely on direct connection with GOES/GOES-R DCS. Such protection is crucial to avoid the disruption of vital information used to ensure the nation’s ports can be safely navigated.”

Lockheed Martin Corp. noted that Ligado proposed an alternative content delivery network (CDN) to deliver NOAA data to non-federal users.

“While there may be some positive features of the CDN, we believe it is an incomplete solution to the problem as it is neither robust, nor does it offer a long-term viable solution for the entire weather enterprise,” Lockheed Martin said. “In fact, if the FCC were to act on the proposal as presented by Ligado, it would in effect be overturning the U.S. Government’s long-term commitment to free-and- open access of direct weather data. Furthermore, we believe that NOAA, as the responsible federal agency for the mission to provide global environmental observations from space, is the appropriate agency, in concert with the larger weather enterprise, to articulate and determine the requirements of an acceptable alternative system.”

Lockheed Martin said it “strongly supports the goal of having NOAA study the feasibility of alternative architectures for real-time distribution of weather products. We believe, furthermore, that only NOAA can provide such an analysis, taking into consideration the needs of, and impacts on, the weather enterprise, while also possibly proposing alternative solutions. We would also encourage the FCC to support any NTIA efforts to ensure that NOAA is able to access expeditiously the research and development funding available through the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act (CSEA) to conduct its own thorough study to determine whether an acceptable terrestrial based alternative is even viable to meet the needs of the weather enterprise. … For these reasons, Lockheed Martin finds it premature to proceed with an FCC rulemaking to consider allocating the 1675-1680 MHz band for terrestrial mobile operations within the current federal primary use allocation that supports critical weather infrastructure.”

The Boeing Company, which said it “uses spectrum in the 1675-1680 MHz range at sites throughout the United States to conduct a variety of ongoing experimental operations for government and private sector customers,” stressed “that any services considered for this band should ensure that existing experimental and government-mandated safety testing in the band are not disrupted.”

Harris Corp., which helped develop the next-generation GOES-R satellite system, said it “recommends a careful review of the potential impacts before the decision is made to auction the 1675-1680MHz portion of the radio-frequency spectrum.  Harris also recommend[s] it is in the best interest of the government to ensure a solution to protect the re-broadcasted GOES-R data is in place to before commercial wireless carriers are allowed to use the spectrum – if the spectrum must be sold.” 

Dish Network Corp. said that if the FCC auctions the 1675-1680 MHz band, “the band should be licensed on an Economic Area (‘EA’) basis, consistent with the Commission’s approach in licensing several previous bands, including the AWS-3 and H Block spectrum.” In addition, “the Commission should reject Ligado’s request to obtain bidding credits for the proposed 1675-1680 MHz auction,” Dish said. “As an initial matter, Ligado fails to demonstrate that it deserves to be compensated in any fashion under its proposal, because it never actually held the terrestrial rights it purports to be giving up. There is, moreover, no legal basis supporting Ligado’s request for bidding credits. Finally, there is no public interest benefit to support Ligado’s receipt of any bidding credits in the event the FCC auction[s] the 1675-1680 MHz band at all.”

SNR Wireless argued that Ligado’s proposal “has serious consequences for the efficient use of the AWS-3 spectrum acquired recently in Auction 97, as well as critical federal government uses in nearby bands. These issues were not contemplated by Auction 97 bidders like SNR; and, if they had been, there likely would have been less demand for the spectrum and less auction revenue as a result. Moreover, unlike other proposals for commercial spectrum use that could impact federal spectrum users, the Ligado Proposal has not been considered by the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (‘CSMAC’), which includes broad representation of industry and government participants.”

“If the FCC adopts the Ligado Proposal, the 1675-1680 MHz licensees should bear all costs that result for AWS-3 or other affected licensees,” SNR added. “Specifically, for the protection of AWS-3 licensees, the FCC should subject any future 1675-1680 MHz licensees to the same coordination and monitoring requirements imposed on AWS-3 licensees, including the obligation to engage with Federal users to secure approval to increase the interference budget, coordinate with Federal users through the CSMAC process, and engage in ongoing radio frequency (‘RF’) monitoring.”

“As the Commission considers whether to initiate a rulemaking on the Ligado Proposal, it should carefully consider the consequences of the implementation of that proposal on AWS-3 commercial licensees,” agreed Northstar Wireless LLC. “Northstar Wireless is the licensee of 261 AWS-3 licenses, including 92 licenses to conduct mobile uplink operations in the 1695 – 1700 MHz band and 81 licenses to conduct mobile uplink operations in the 1700 – 1710 MHz band. Adoption of the Ligado Proposal to use the 1675 – 1680 MHz band for terrestrial mobile downlink transmissions would result in additional co-channel and adjacent channel interference to government satellite operations, limit the number of AWS-3 mobile units that may be operated in affected locations, and permit Ligado — or whomever ultimately acquires the rights it seeks — to benefit from others’ contributions toward federal users’ spectrum sharing costs. Accordingly, the Commission should ensure that any resulting rulemaking proceeding includes robust measures to protect the investments and operations of these existing licensees.”

In its comments, Ligado said that the 1675-1680 MHz band can be allocated for shared commercial use while protecting NOAA operations. It said that the spectrum no longer is necessary for NOAA’s radiosonde operations and that protection zones can guard against interference to current and future operations.

“There have been some submissions into the record expressing concern about interference to non-NOAA users, but there is no evidence in the record documenting that shared use of the 1675-1680 MHz band will cause harmful interference to these unlicensed entities,” Ligado argued. “The Commission prefers a ‘fact-based, data-driven approach’ to its policy-making decisions, and the present situation should not stray from this approach.”

Ligado said that if the FCC “finds that shared use of the band could cause harmful interference to the unlicensed entities that access NOAA’s weather data, there are readily available and widely-deployed technology solutions, such as fiber optic or cloud-based networks, that can be used to ensure there is no disruption for the community of non-NOAA users that rely on this data. Several of these entities have recently submitted comments in this proceeding expressing concern over losing the data they currently receive from NOAA.

“However, Ligado is not suggesting in any way that the data currently provided by NOAA not be provided or be provided in ways that may make it susceptible to interference,” the company added. “Instead, recognizing the importance of this data to the existing users — and other future users — Ligado has proposed that if the Commission finds it necessary, the winner of the auction for this band should be required to implement a new data content delivery network as an alternative to the satellite-delivered data stream these non-NOAA users currently receive. Ligado’s proposed content delivery network would deliver information in a manner that is equal to — if not better than — the quality of the information these users currently receive. Furthermore, the new network would expand access to NOAA data to schools, libraries, and the general public, advancing the Administration’s Open Data Initiative and the Commission’s efforts to bolster science, technology, engineering, and math (‘STEM’) education.”

“The question of whether the 1675-1680 MHz band should be allocated for terrestrial use has been asked and answered by the Obama Administration four times in the past four years, and each time the answer has been Yes. That same important policy question has been addressed by Congress multiple times in the past four years, and again, each time the answer has been Yes,” Ligado also said. “The only remaining unanswered question is when the allocation should take place. The 2017 Presidential Budget states that the terrestrial use should commence not later than 2020. In order to activate a network, a licensee needs approximately three years to pair the spectrum with other bands, obtain approval from the global standards setting body, and discharge all the conditions and duties that are rightfully imposed on the licensee to serve and protect the public interest. The auction for 1675-1680 MHz should therefore be completed in 2017.”

CTIA said the FCC “should initiate a rulemaking to consider making the 1675-1680 MHz band available via auction for shared commercial use, and to adopt associated service and auction rules. Repurposing this band for shared commercial use is one more step the Commission can take to help accommodate the explosive growth in demand for mobile broadband.”

In joint comments, Public Knowledge and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute also expressed support for the rulemaking sought by Ligado.

“As Ligado identified in its Petition, the need for additional spectrum for mobile broadband is acute,” the groups said. “When Ligado filed its Petition in 2012, 5G was distantly on the horizon, with the focus in the wireless industry remaining squarely on expanding 4G deployment. At the time, Ligado extensively discussed the need for additional spectrum, writing that ‘[b]oth the public and private sectors broadly acknowledge’ the fact that ‘[a]n increasingly urgent need exists for additional spectrum to be made available to support mobile broadband services.’ Now, with 5G technologies on the horizon and the Internet of Things growing at a tremendous pace, the need for additional spectrum for mobile broadband, to support new and innovative products and services, is even more acute.” – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily