NEWS ANALYSIS: A DOT official's testimony in a House Aviation Subcommittee hearing called LightSquared’s data plan completely incompatible with GPS. There has also been a call for new GPS interference standards.
The House Subcommittee on Aviation, which
is part of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the U.S. House
, held hearings Feb. 8 regarding the critical nature of
GPS to aviation in the United States, and the issues raised LightSquareds
plans to implement a broadband data service on frequency band adjacent to the
countrys GPS signal. The hearing was intended to determine whether legislation
is required to protect GPS from interference by LightSquared or similar uses
that could prevent GPS receivers from working properly.
LightSquareds proposals are fundamentally incompatible
with GPS use, said John Porcari, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of
During his testimony, Porcari said that LightSquareds
original and its many revised plans all adversely affect GPS, and that
researchers have not been able to find a way to mitigate the interference. Porcari
added that most aircraft, including airliners, use GPS in a variety of ways,
including basic navigation, terrain avoidance, precision landing and efficient
routing. He said that losing GPS would cost the federal government and the
economy billions of dollars.
Pocari testified that the LightSquared proposals should
not go forward, and he said that the DOT would work with the National
Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)
standards for avoiding GPS interference in the future. He said that the
standards would let future users of the spectrum know in advance what uses
would and would not be compatible with GPS.
has filed a declaratory ruling that commercial GPS receivers
deserving of legal protection from interference from LightSquareds data
service. If the Federal Communications Commission made such a ruling, it would
effectively declare that GPS users, including the airlines, emergency services
and ordinary users would have no recourse when they couldnt use their GPS
devices for navigation, surveying, timing or all of the other users that have
been developed for GPS.
has just announced hearings
on that motion.
LightSquareds motion, combined with another motion
asking the FCC to establish GPS receiver standards, would effectively remove
LightSquared from the regulatory process. In other words, if the FCC issues the
declaratory ruling that LightSquared wants, then it will be free to begin
operations immediately, because the GPS receivers wont have any right to be
The interference from LightSquareds proposed network was
the primary reason for the subcommittee hearings, and the danger to GPS was the
primary point of the discussion.
While the Aviation Subcommittee limited the scope of the
hearings to items involving aviation, speakers at the hearing repeatedly made
reference to the FCCs unwillingness to bring the issue to an end, and
repeatedly criticized the approve first, then test method of handling LightSquareds
application to operate. The speakers called on the FCC to rescind the approval.
One speaker noted, Theres just one regulator in Washington who doesnt seem
to get it.
The Aviation Subcommittee hearing is just one in a series
of calls for the FCC to terminate the LightSquared plan for a terrestrial data
system operating on frequencies near enough to GPS to keep it from working.
While LightSquareds plan was originally presented as a satellite-based system
supplemented in a few spots by ground stations, it has now morphed into a
terrestrial system with more than 40,000 high-power transmitters that
effectively would keep GPS from working in the United States.
The fact is that, despite LightSquared's many protests, the
companys proposed data system would prevent tens of millions of GPS users from
being able to use their devices. As you can imagine, Congress is well aware
that those tens of millions of GPS users, many of whom have multiple devices
that they depend on daily, are also voters.
But whats equally important is that despite its claims
to the contrary, LightSquared has done a classic bait-and-switch. It started by
proposing a use for the frequencies to which it has a license that would work
with GPS, then changed it to one that wouldnt. Testing conducted by LightSquared
and the government has confirmed this. But now, due to some poorly managed
follow-on testing by the military, LightSquared has the chance to claim that
the government isnt playing fair.
But LightSquared isnt playing fair either. The company
knows that it
s plan to make money is placed squarely on
the backs on tens of millions of GPS users. Worse, it knows that its plan will
cost lives as search and rescue operations go astray, and as terrain avoidance
systems in aircraft that depend on GPS and which have drastically reduced
airplane crashes are rendered useless.
LightSquared, in thinking that Congress will sit quietly
by and let this happen is politically tone deaf to an astonishing degree.
Despite its willingness to spread money around, LightSquared doesnt control
many votes, and its trying to do something that will upset tens of millions of
voters. Ultimately, Congress will figure this out, and if the FCC doesnt act
to kill the LightSquared plan, then Congress should (and probably will) do it