News Analysis: The U.S House Appropriations Committee votes to block the FCC from approving LightSquared's plan for wireless broadband Internet services after multiple federal agencies voice fierce opposition because of interference with GPS navigation systems.
The powerful U.S. House of
Representatives Appropriations Committee voted June 23 to insert language into
a spending bill that would block the Federal Communications Commission from
spending any money approving LightSquared's plan to launch a controversial Long-Term Evolution broadband
system until concerns about interference with GPS signals are resolved.
If the entire spending measure is ultimately approved by the House and Senate and then signed into law, the FCC is effectively barred from any further
consideration of LightSquared's plan since even meeting to discuss the plan
spends federal funds through employee salaries. In short, until LightSquared
comes up with a plan that completely protects all existing GPS navigation
devices from any interference, the company cannot operate its satellite-based
The hearings, held June 23,
were marked by strong opposition from the U.S. military and other agencies,
including the Federal Aviation Administration, which testified that the
LightSquared plan would prevent the use of GPS in critical applications.
According to the testimony, the U.S. Coast Guard would be unable to perform
search and rescue operations, airlines would be unable to use GPS in landings
at airports and other services would have their defense missions compromised.
Industry groups were even
more strongly opposed to the LightSquared plan, suggesting that the use of an
adjacent band by powerful transmitters would never be made to work without GPS
interference. While representatives from LightSquared said that the problem
could be solved by adding filters to affected GPS receivers, representatives of
the GPS industry said that such filters don't exist and that it would be
impossible to retrofit all existing GPS devices.
Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wisc.),
chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation, and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.),
chairman of the subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, held a
joint hearing on the topic and expressed great concern about the threat to GPS. "In aviation, there's no room for
error," Petri said. Petri also pointed out that the next-generation airspace
modernization system depended on GPS and that the LightSquared plan would put
that entire program in jeopardy.
at the hearing included representatives of the Department of Defense,
Department of Transportation, the U.S. Coast Guard, Garmin, the Aircraft Owners
and Pilots Association, the Air Transportation Association and LightSquared. The
Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics, a nonprofit corporation that
advises on communications and navigation technology and performed the GPS
interference testing for the FAA, also testified at the hearing.
Shortly before the hearings,
LightSquared announced that it would modify its plans to use only the part of
the L-band spectrum also used by GPS, but industry and government speakers said
that would not eliminate the interference with GPS. According to a report in
Bloomberg, the committees plan to ask the
FCC to allow time for thorough testing.
Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's 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.