When LightSquared, the company that promises to create a national satellite network for Long-Term Evolution data traffic, suddenly sprang into action at the end of December to demand that the Federal Communications Commission confirm its right to use frequencies that interfere with GPS, it was more than just the company’s usual aggressive behavior.
It is, in fact, an effort to get the FCC to act on the company’s license application in advance of the signing of the Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012. This bill, which has been approved with strong bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, contains a provision that prohibits the FCC from approving LightSquared’s operation if it interferes in any way with the use of GPS by the military.
“Such approval, in view of the recent test results of the LightSquared network’s effect on GPS receivers, would be prohibited by our legislation,” said Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. “The FCC should take no actions inconsistent with the bipartisan and bicameral position of the Congress that our first goal must be to protect DOD GPS systems.”
The LightSquared petition makes a big deal of contrasting GPS receivers as “unlicensed” while pointing out that its service is licensed. The fact is that this is really a smoke screen being raised by LightSquared, which is trying to bolster its position as being the rightful user of its planned frequencies adjacent to the frequencies used by GPS services. First of all, the FCC doesn’t normally license radio receivers of any kind, GPS or otherwise. This is why you don’t need to get an FCC license for your car radio.
Second, the GPS system is the property of the U.S. government. It was designed and implemented by the U.S. Air Force, and is currently operated by the Air Force and the Department of Commerce. While the service is in use by millions of civilians around the world, its primary purpose is to provide precise location information for the U.S. military and for public safety and law enforcement organizations.
The fact that the government allows civilian use of the system is a boon almost beyond measure that has eased the lives of millions. But ultimately it’s a military system.
But in addition to the military purposes, GPS has also been adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation as an approved means of aircraft navigation. In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration is already in the process of allowing aircraft, including commercial airliners, to fly directly to their destinations, instead of following a complex system of airways developed decades ago when airliners navigated using radio signals from ground stations.
LightSquared Is Using Its Money to Lobby the FCC Into Actions Contrary to Public Interest
LightSquared, obviously motivated by the desire to make lots of money by selling Internet access to phone companies, is using the funds it raised from hedge fund managers and other investors to lobby the FCC into actions contrary to the public interest. Sound familiar? It should: This is the same tactic that AT&T used to get its merger with T-Mobile approved. AT&T has lots more money than LightSquared, but the result will probably be the same, which is failure.
Meanwhile, LightSquared is making much of its status as the licensee of the spectrum adjacent to GPS. But while it did receive a license before testing for GPS interference was conducted, that license was contingent on noninterference with GPS. The facts are that LightSquared’s system does indeed interfere with the GPS devices used by the U.S. government, including the military, the Department of Homeland Security and a wide variety of public safety organizations.
LightSquared insists that GPS receivers should have been designed so that LightSquared wouldn’t interfere with them. This position is specious. While it is possible to design a GPS receiver that avoids interference at the lower end of its spectrum, the fact is that the millions of GPS receivers weren’t designed that way because they came before LightSquared existed, and LightSquared’s use of the spectrum would effectively render them useless.
Millions of consumers would be out hundreds to thousands of dollars each if the LightSquared system were to start operation-a cost to the economy reaching well into the billions of dollars just for the equipment. The cost of the loss of the service to the economy would be even greater.
The fact is that LightSquared’s statements, including its claims in its release announcing its filing with the FCC, are little more than self-serving misdirection. Sure, inexpensive filters would help reduce the problem, but I don’t see LightSquared offering to pay for those millions of filters or the cost of installing them.
Fortunately, there is a solution.
If the military finds out that LightSquared is interfering with its ability to perform its mission in any way, both the Air Force and the Navy have the ability and the legal authority to eliminate the problem. You thought those huge lasers mounted in Boeing 747s were science fiction? They’re not. And the Navy has already demonstrated its ability to shoot down a satellite using missiles from an Aegis cruiser.
Of course, if this were to happen, I’m sure that LightSquared would fight back with millions of dollars in lobbying money and maybe even issue a dreaded press release. So I guess we should all be prepared.