LightSquared Broadband Plan Is Dead for Now

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-02-15

LightSquared Broadband Plan Is Dead for Now

The Federal Communications Commission has effectively killed LightSquared€™s plan to build its own terrestrial wholesale 4G data delivery system. The FCC€™s action followed a letter from the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) that found LightSquared€™s original and modified plans for its proposed mobile network would cause harmful interference to the nation€™s GPS receivers.

The Feb. 14 NTIA letter also noted that the Federal Aviation Administration had concluded that the LightSqared proposed data network would interfere with aviation safety-of-flight systems, and that no practical solutions or mitigations would be found over the course of the next few years.

With mounting evidence that the company€™s plan was unworkable, the FCC announced that LightSquared€™s time was up.

€œThe Commission will not lift the prohibition on LightSquared,€ said FCC spokeswoman Tammy Sun. €œThe International Bureau of the Commission is proposing to (1) vacate the Conditional Waiver Order, and (2) suspend indefinitely LightSquared€™s Ancillary Terrestrial Component authority to an extent consistent with the NTIA letter. A Public Notice seeking comment on NTIA€™s conclusions and on these proposals will be released tomorrow [Feb. 15].€

While the FCC proposal to end LightSquared€™s operation is in the form of a proposal, the reality is that this effectively kills the LightSquared application for its 4G LTE (Long-Term Evolution) data system.

LightSquared, as one may suspect, disagrees with the FCC€™s actions. According to LightSquared spokesman Chris Stern, the company plans to fight on and prove that its proposed system and GPS can co-exist.

However, it€™s hard to see how LightSquared€™s protestations are anything but empty promises from a company about to fail.

The current failure of LightSquared to gain regulatory approval for its operations has cost its primary owner, Harbinger Capital Partners, more than half its value, and has forced the company to borrow operating funds at interest rates€”more than 15 percent€”closer to those charged by payday lenders than even junk bonds. A number of financial observers have suggested that LightSquared only has a few months left before it runs out of cash. This means that the FCC€™s actions will almost certainly kill LightSquared long before it has a chance to find a reasonable solution to GPS interference, assuming one exists.

LightSquared Is Unlikely to Be Able to Convince a Count That Testing Was Unfair


At this point, the only ray of hope that LightSquared has, and it€™s a faint one indeed, is to convince a court that the testing was sufficiently unfair to reverse the FCC€™s decision. While the secret testing by the military that took place in November may give it some ammunition, the FCC is rarely, if ever, overturned on technical decisions.

Considering that the NTIA, the Pentagon, the FAA and other agencies are also calling for LightSquared€™s plan to be killed, the chances of success are vanishingly small.

Still, LightSquared is trying.

€œLightSquared profoundly disagrees with both the NTIA€™s and the PNT€™s recommendations, which disregard more than a decade of regulatory orders, and in doing so, jeopardize private enterprise, jobs and investment in America's future,€ according to a company statement.

€œNTIA relies on interference standards that have never been used in this context, and were forced by the GPS community in order to reach the conclusions presented today,€ the company added. €œThis, together with a severely flawed testing process that relied on obsolete and niche devices, shows that the FCC should take the NTIA's recommendation with a generous helping of salt.€

LightSquared€™s problem is that the company is the only party to this proposal that thinks its plans are right.

GPS users both in the government and in private industry instead say that the company has had its chance, and it has failed to prove that its data network can operate without killing GPS.

€œAfter a year of extensive testing, NTIA has now conclusively stated that LightSquared€™s operations will interfere with GPS and that there is no viable mitigation path for the foreseeable future,€ said Jim Kirkland, vice president of Trimble and a founding member of the group Save our GPS. €œThe findings of widespread interference include serious threats to safety-of-life systems, as the FAA report details.€

The NTIA findings follow hearings in Congress in which the FAA and the Commerce Department argued strongly that the LightSquared plan should be shelved. The announcement by the FCC indicates that it will be.

Overall, much of the last year€™s drama could have been avoided if the FCC had required LightSquared to prove its case prior to issuing a license to operate in the radio bands that adjoin the GPS frequencies.

However, in an effort to fast-track what initially appeared to be a quick answer to calls for a national wireless broadband system, the license was granted first, with the provision that operations couldn€™t happen until LightSquared proved that it didn€™t interfere with GPS.

This initial approval, of course, gave LightSquared the ability to claim that it was only trying to use a resource that it already owned. This complicated the situation, and ended up costing the government millions of dollars in testing that probably would not have needed to be done otherwise.

Now, finally, it€™s over.

LightSquared is dead, even if it hasn€™t realized it yet. The company will never operate its system on the bands adjacent to GPS, and the company has little choice but to shut down and give its investors back what little it hasn€™t squandered.


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