Satellite company Ligado Networks is seeking up to $39 billion in compensation from the U.S. government for spectrum rights it claims were unfairly denied, alleging that the Pentagon and Commerce Department used a false pretext of GPS interference to deny its use of wireless spectrum licenses.
In its Hail Mary attempt to stay solvent as bankruptcy looms for Ligado, and lenders will have to consider extending payments of almost $4 billion in loans and bonds that are due next month, the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims against the United States, the Defense Department, the Commerce Department, and NTIA, seeks just compensation for the government’s “physical, categorical, regulatory and legislative takings of Ligado’s property.”
The lawsuit cites a high-level DoD “whistleblower” who “revealed internal emails and discussions” that the company claims show DoD and Commerce “fabricated arguments, misled Congress in testimony supporting anti-Ligado legislation, and orchestrated a public smear campaign, which included repeating those false claims to the public and threatening Ligado’s business partners with canceling their own government contracts if they worked with Ligado.”
In April 2020, the FCC unanimously authorized Ligado to operate terrestrial 5G services within its exclusively licensed L-Band spectrum after a rigorous, years-long regulatory process and review. Ligado had intended to use the spectrum to support next-generation terrestrial 5G services that would benefit the nation’s critical infrastructure sectors like public safety, rail transport, renewable energy, trucking, public utilities, oil and gas, and autonomous vehicles.
After the FCC approved Ligado’s spectrum proposal, other actors in the U.S. government took aggressive actions to block implementation of the FCC order, the lawsuit states, and to thwart Ligado’s use of its licensed L-Band spectrum for 5G, the company claims.
“First, NTIA, acting on DoD’s behalf, filed a motion to stay the April 2020 FCC Order based on alleged harmful interference with GPS. The FCC rejected this stay request in January 2021, finding it lacked any merit, but NTIA continues to press its case with a still-pending petition for reconsideration. Today, DoD, with no legal basis, continues to cite the petition as justification for refusing to cooperate with Ligado or even meet with the company, as directed by the April 2020 FCC Order,” the filing states.
In addition, Ligado said, “the DoD officials lobbied Congress to pass unprecedented provisions targeting a U.S. company in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which effectively gives DoD veto power over Ligado’s spectrum plans. These officials told Congress their opposition was due to alleged harmful GPS interference, making allegations they knew to be scientifically unsound and under a false pretext. DoD officials also directly threatened Ligado’s potential business partners by warning they would not be eligible for lucrative government contracts if they worked with the company.”
It would be very hard to see how a multi-billion dollar compensation would be awarded to Ligado, especially $39 billion. Also, it is unlikely that any settlement offered by the government agencies would be approved by Congress when the FCC can’t get Congress to move on allocating an additional $2 billion required to replace Chinese-made Huawei and ZTE telecom equipment, a national security concern.
What appears to be largest settlement in U.S. history in a lawsuit against a government agency was in 1999 when a $2 billion settlement was made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture because the USDA discriminated against Black farmers when they applied for federal financial assistance.
The Ligado lawsuit is available here.