Farm Futures logo

Reliability of GPS and satellite communications could be at stake if FCC order goes into effect.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

July 5, 2021

3 Min Read
GPS-agtech-LivingImages-GettyImages-157612698 copy.jpg
VALUED TECH: Farmers have come to rely on precision guidance in a range of ways. Loss of GPS would threaten much of agtech in the field.LivingImages/iStock/Getty Images

Members of Congress introduced bipartisan legislation to keep GPS reliable and ensure unfair cost burdens won’t fall on U.S. farmers or other end users who rely on the network to operate safely and efficiently. The Recognizing and Ensuring Taxpayer Access to Infrastructure Necessary for GPS and Satellite Communications Act, or RETAIN, was introduced by U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Jack Reed, R-R.I., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D., in response to the Federal Communication Commission’s Ligado Order.

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.

To build on its previous advocacy on this issue, groups including the American Soybean Association, National Cotton Council, American Farm Bureau Federation, Agriculture Retailers Association and over 70 others signed a letter in support of the RETAIN Act, thanking lawmakers leading the bill. The groups have also been participating in an extensive social media campaign.

The FCC order went into effect April 2020 and allows Ligado Networks to establish a wireless network that the groups say will threaten the reception capability of hundreds of millions of GPS devices and growers’ abilities to use GPS technology in their operations. Because growers heavily rely upon navigation systems and precision technology, the prospect of GPS units not working is alarming to soybean farmers, ASA says.

FCC’s order acknowledges the likelihood of interference to GPS signals and requires Ligado to pay the federal government the costs for repairs but does not specify what those costs and, importantly, does not currently include the private sector.

A statement from Inhofe explains 99% of the more than 900 million GPS devices across the country are used by the private sector and consumers, as well as state and local governments. Under the current order, private sector businesses like agriculture, or their consumers, are on the hook for repair costs.

The RETAIN ACT would require Ligado to cover the cost of correcting any interference its operations create and specifically outlines the areas of potential costs, including engineering, construction, site acquisition, research, personnel or contracting staff and labor costs. For agriculture, this means Ligado would need to upgrade, repair, or replace any farm equipment impacted by Ligado. The bill also specifically notes these costs apply to those impacted in both the public and private sector.

The groups urge changes to FCC’s Ligado decision and will continue prompting the Biden administration and Congress to step in to protect GPS reliability.

Editor's note, the Ligado name may not be familiar to farmers, but this company was once known as LightSquared and about a decade ago started its campaign to create a new way to provide high-speed web access. While appealing, the LightSquared approach was challenged by the same groups protesting Ligado's move now. The challenge of interference to GPS has been a concern since those LightSquared days.


About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like