In a highly surprising move, the White House has confirmed that President Trump has withdrawn the nomination of Michael O’Rielly to a second five-year term as a Commissioner at the FCC.
It’s a move in a chess match that follows a hold on O’Rielly’s renomination placed by an Oklahoma Senator squarely on the Commission’s unanimous decision to approve an application from Ligado to facilitate 5G and “Internet of Things” services.
With no comment, the presidential action was sent to the U.S. Senate alongside the withdrawal of the White House’s nomination of Anthony Tata as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. Tata’s nomination was sent to the Senate on June 11.
As of early Monday evening, O’Rielly had not offered comment on the withdrawal via Twitter; the FCC had not posted a comment.
The move comes as an unusual tactic likely tied to a hold on O’Rielly’s renomination from James Inhofe (R-Okla.).
Inhofe wanted O’Rielly to publicly state that he will say yes to overturning the FCC’s decision to approve an application from Ligado to facilitate 5G and “Internet of Things” services.
That decision, which was unanimous, came with bipartisan support, as noted at the time by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. However, there was dissent — courtesy of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. On May 22, the NTIA formally petitioned the FCC to reverse its 5-0 decision.
And, it was made clear that the petition from NTIA was made “on behalf of the executive branch, particularly the Department of Defense and the Department of Transportation.”
Translation: Trump himself seeks to derail Ligado on behalf of national defense interests, despite the fact that the FCC made its decision based on every fact it was presented.
In a May 13 letter to the House Armed Services Committee, O’Rielly offered his first hint of how he could react to any sort of political chess game. He said the 5-0 vote for Ligado was based on facts and data submitted by federal agencies. Of course, he added, “As with all Commission matters. I remain open to reconsidering the decision if presented with new and convincing evidence and data.” But, he added, “The Commission’s license modification order extensively addresses the concerns in the record, including those raised by the national security community.”
At issue with the DoD is its claim that the Commission’s Order and Authorization allows Ligado to use L-band spectrum that is alongside the Global Positioning System. In the department’s view, a terrestrial broadband network in that band of spectrum would create interfere with GPS signals.
In the order approving Ligado’s application, the Commission included what it called “stringent conditions” to ensure that incumbents would not experience harmful interference.
For example, the Commission mandated that Ligado provide a significant (23 MHz) guard-band using its own licensed spectrum to separate its terrestrial base station transmissions from neighboring operations in the Radionavigation-Satellite Service allocation.
Moreover, Ligado is required to limit the power levels of its base stations to 9.8 dBW, a reduction of 99.3% from the power levels proposed in Ligado’s 2015 application.
The order also requires Ligado to protect adjacent band incumbents by reporting its base station locations and technical operating parameters to potentially affected government and industry stakeholders prior to commencing operations, continuously monitoring the transmit power of its base station sites, and complying with procedures and actions for responding to credible reports of interference, including rapid shutdown of operations where warranted.
O’Rielly reappointment nomination was sent by the White House to the Senate on March 18. This would formally recognize O’Rielly as a Commissioner at the FCC for a five-year term retroactive to July 1, 2019.
Without Congressional approval, O’Rielly would be forced to step down in January 2021, should Trump fail to be reelected as president in November. This, of course, could mimic a scenario that saw Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel forced to exit — only to have Trump renominate her and bring the well-respected Commissioner back for a new term.
O’Reilly, a Republican, was nominated to the Commission in 2013 by President Obama, to complete the term of outgoing commissioner Robert McDowell. O’Rielly was then given his first full term at the FCC upon Senate approval in 2014.