LightSquareds GPS Debacle Was Preventable

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2011-06-26 Print this article Print


However, that may be moot after the Appropriations Committee action to block the FCC's funding for any approval of LightSquare's plans to operate. The Appropriations Committee passed the funding restriction with strong bipartisan support on a voice vote.

While the funding restrictions on the FCC still have to have Senate approval and need to be signed by the president, the strong support from both parties in the House of Representatives makes it unlikely that the Senate will block this action. At this point, the White House hasn't said whether the President would sign it. However, opposition to LightSquared's plan is very strong within the Executive Branch, making it likely that the president would agree.

While it appears that GPS interests have at least won a reprieve, a number things could still happen. The Senate might not approve the House action before the summer recess, and the FCC could issue its approval before Congress returns. Such defiance of congressional intent is rare, but it has happened before. Such an action could have grave consequences for the commissioners who approved LightSquared in the face of clear congressional wishes, which in Washington is virtually a sure way for them to lose their jobs as commissioners.

The sad part of all of this is that it was entirely preventable. The potential for interference with GPS by the LightSquared broadband was known years ago. The necessary testing could have been performed years ago. In the last year, the FCC, possibly bowing to political pressure to find a solution to universal broadband, short-circuited the approval process. It limited hearings to only 10 days, and held responses to 7 days. Then, instead of requiring that testing take place before approval, the FCC voted to approve the LightSqared broadband system, complete with thousands of high-powered ground-based transmitters, immediately.

Eventually, in the face of significant opposition, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski changed his stand and said he'd require that LightSquared prove that they don't interfere with GPS before he would allow operation. But even this action raises more questions than it answers. Why didn't the FCC require testing years ago when the chance of interference was first suspected? Why did FCC Chairman Genachowski suddenly decide that this issue was so urgent that he needed to dispense with the usual hearing and response time?

Most of all, why the rush to approve LightSquared's plan and skip the essential step of testing for interference? The only answer I can think of is that Genachowski was under pressure to do this. But that leads to another question: pressure from whom? Ultimately, that's the answer that we need from the FCC.

Editor's Note: The headline of this story was changed to reflect that it was a U.S. House Committee vote to withhold funds from the FCC in a budget bill to effectively forestall approval of LightSquared's wireless broadband 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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