U.S. Wont Pay to Fix LightSquareds GPS Interference

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-01-04 Print this article Print


While the NDAA doesn't specifically prohibit LightSquared's planned LTE network, it puts a number of onerous burdens on both the FCC and the Secretary of Defense. More importantly, it prohibits the FCC from allowing operation of the LightSquared LTE network unless it can prove that it won't interfere with the needs of the Department of Defense. This factor, along with the frequent reporting requirement, means that there's a powerful incentive for the FCC to carefully ascertain that LightSquared has completely solved the interference problems.

Note that there's a cost factor in the reporting requirement. What this means is that if interference is found, then the military must determine how much it will cost to either fix all of those GPS units in use or find some other way to eliminate the problem. Considering the limitation on the defense budgets with the end of the Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan winding down, it's unlikely that the Defense Department will have the money for a massive repair or swap of GPS receivers.

"Included in the bill is the provision I authored with Rep. Loretta Sanchez which will prohibit the FCC from granting LightSquared final approval for its proposed network unless the FCC can resolve the significant harms the LightSquared network creates for the Department of Defense," Rep. Michael R. Turner, R-Ohio, told eWEEK. "According to the recently completed round of government tests, which did not even look at DoD receivers, LightSquared falls well short of meeting that threshold. Let's not lose sight of what the most important thing is in the debate about LightSquared's network-the safety of our men and women in uniform."

All of this means is the FCC can't approve LightSquared's plans unless there simply isn't any interference, since the DoD isn't going to accept a plan where it must spend millions out of its shrinking budget to fix what currently isn't broken. This basically puts the solution outside of the realm of LightSquared's lobbyists at Patton Boggs, and puts it squarely into the realm of technical solutions.

What's more, it's pretty clear that Congress isn't interested in appropriating any money to pay for fixing or upgrading GPS receivers that belong to the military. Because of the way the Defense Department appropriations work, the DoD can't simply take the money from some other project, but even if it could, its budget is getting very tight, so it's unlikely that it would be done in any case.

The bottom line is that LightSquared has basically one choice if it wants to operate its network. It must show to the satisfaction of the Working Group, the FCC and Congress that it does not interfere with GPS at all. If it can't do that, then the FCC can't grant approval and LightSquared can't operate. The other side of the coin is that if LightSquared finds a way to solve the military's issue to the satisfaction of Congress, then it will have solved the problem for civilian and commercial users of the global GPS system. 

Wayne Rash Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazineÔÇÖs Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.

He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.

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