FCC: LightSquared Mustn’t Mess With GPS


Washington — Federal
Communications Commission
chairman Julius
Genachowski says his agency
won’t let LightSquared’s
proposed hybrid satellite/
terrestrial broadband wireless
service interfere with
satellite global-positioning systems. Period.

FCC officials later said that the commission
may have to conduct more tests of a modified
LightSquared proposal to address the interference
issues posed by the company’s planned 4G
Long Term Evolution network, but gave no timetable
for when such a decision would be made.


The chairman’s assertion came in a press
conference with reporters after the FCC’s
monthly meeting on Aug. 9. The agency has
put LightSquared’s launch on hold until it resolves
interference issues. But Genachowski
also said the FCC’s goal was to protect GPS
and promote a service that will lead to job
creation and billions in private investment.

In a background briefing with reporters following
the FCC meeting, officials outlined the
LightSquared timeline that led to a January
waiver allowing the company to offer separate
satellite and terrestrial handsets, conditioned
on its continuing to provide a robust satellite
service and subsidizing the sets so that integrated
and separate sets
cost about the same.

LightSquared’s customers
are also required to
buy a combined satellite/
terrestrial service, though
they could choose to offer
only terrestrial and eat the
cost of the satellite portion.

In the briefing, the officials pointed out that the waiver included the
directive that the GPS interference issues had
to be resolved before LightSquared could offer
the service. This made the ruling both a conditional
waiver and essentially a “stop work”
order, since the FCC had authorized the service
in March 2010, before the most recent interference
issues came to light.

To resolve interference issues, Light-
Squared submitted a modified proposal
that, at least for the moment, will use only
spectrum further away from the GPS allocation.
The FCC, though, is looking for a resolution
that will not require that large swaths of
spectrum go fallow as a “guard band.”

Comments are due on that proposal Aug. 15,
and the FCC officials said they had no timetable
for deciding on the next step, which could be
further testing of the lower portion of the band
that LightSquared will use to avoid interference.

One official said that the commission would
be sensitive to the financial situation of Light-
Squared’s owner, Harbinger Capital, but that
would its decision on how to proceed.

The LightSquared proposal is to sell wireless
broadband wholesale, a service the FCC
officials point out will lead to more widespread
deployment at lower cost.

LightSquared had asked the FCC to rule that
it could offer separate terrestrial and satellite
handsets and still meet the “integrated service”
requirement in the FCC’s March 2010 decision
to let it use satellite spectrum to deliver terrestrial
service. The FCC denied that blanket ruling,
but said it would provide the conditional waiver.


While Genachowski would clearly like to promote
a service that could reach almost the whole
U.S. — and be priced to sell — FCC staffers seconded
the chairman’s assertion that the interference
issue trumps other concerns. Staff members
said they want to move as quickly as they could
to resolve the issues, but they won’t rush matters,
adding they are just as committed to not interfering
with airplane communications. The FCC
building itself is on the flight path to Reagan International
Airport, a point punctuated by planes
climbing and descending not far from the agency’s
sixth-floor conference room window.

There continued to be an interference problem,
FCC staffers said, particularly in the upper
portion of the band closest to GPS. While
LightSquared’s proposal anticipates eventually
using that spectrum as well, one FCC
official said he did not see that happening
anytime soon, and that the commission was
focusing on the lower-band proposal.