Spectrum Swap Best Option for LightSquared’s Salvation

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-05-15 Print this article Print

One of LightSquared€™s options is to convince the FCC to sell its current spectrum holdings€“the bands next to GPS€“and give it the frequencies it wants that are too far from GPS to interfere.

Why would the FCC do this? There are two reasons. First, the original reason for the FCC€™s fast track of the LightSquared 4G data network was to provide a nationwide data network that could compete with Verizon Wireless and AT&T while giving smaller carriers a way to get access to LTE at a reasonable price. This was consistent with the Obama administration€™s stated goal of making broadband data available throughout the United States, especially in communities that are either underserved or which have no service at all.

The second reason is that the FCC has received a significant amount of criticism for the way it conducted the LightSquared process, from the conditional approval to the secretive testing conducted by the Air Force and National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Congress has already issued a request for documents in preparation for hearings. Worse, the potential for GPS interference from this part of the spectrum has been known to everyone, including the FCC, for years. Agreeing to a spectrum swap of some sort would defuse this criticism.

Of course, these are among the reasons why LightSquared filed for Chapter 11. As the company said, it didn€™t want its assets taken so that creditors could gain a quick profit. LightSquared intends to build and operate its network if it can find a path through the regulatory insanity.

Now the question comes down to one of time. Can LightSquared find a way to hang in there until the FCC comes through with a spectrum swap? Clearly this is ultimately what LightSquared would like. But whether the FCC has any motivation to hurry things along so LightSquared€™s dreams can be realized is another question. I suspect that deep down inside, the FCC commissioners who have been dealing with this mess just wish it would go away.

But that was then. The FCC has some new commissioners and this may also give LightSquared reason to hope. Unfortunately, things never seem to move quickly at the FCC, a fact that has been noted by any number of critics. It€™s hard to see the Commission suddenly speeding up now. But if anything, the world probably seems slightly brighter to LightSquared. Perhaps the FCC can see its way clear to get LightSquared a chunk of usable spectrum, while at the same time giving Verizon and AT&T some competition. 

Wayne Rash 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.

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