LightSquared debate heats up

 - May 31, 2011, 2:35 PM

Two events last month intensified the confrontation between LightSquared, a private U.S. communications company, and U.S. government and industry GPS interests.

LightSquared obtained an FCC waiver of its satellite broadcast license to build a supplemental terrestrial transmitter network to ensure unbroken nationwide Internet connectivity. The GPS community claimed that LightSquared’s plan, using a radio frequency close to that of GPS, would create unacceptable interference. LightSquared countered that any interference encountered would be minimal, with one remedy being to add filters to GPS receivers.

On May 13, Congressman Mike Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee on Strategic Forces, included a requirement in the forthcoming National Defense Authorization Act that Congress be notified of any widespread interference to GPS caused by a commercial communications service. In a snub to the FCC, Turner stated, “When it comes to GPS spectrum, government agencies must consult with the Defense Department on any effects. Our service members who are fighting in two wars count on an uninterrupted GPS capability to do their jobs.” The full House was expected to vote on the bill at the end of last month.

On May 16, the FAA was to begin tests of LightSquared transmitters at Las Vegas and Boulder City, Nev., and warned pilots that GPS interference could be encountered out to 175 nm and from ground level to FL400 and above–both far greater numbers than many had anticipated. Pilots interviewed by AIN expressed concern that LightSquared’s interference area appeared similar to that published by the USAF earlier this year during tests of foreign military devices expressly designed to disrupt GPS.

However, these two events are unlikely to derail LightSquared’s plans. Its huge program, where just the ground network investment could exceed $7 billion, reportedly enjoys powerful industry and political support, including President Obama’s nationwide broadband initiative. LightSquared has also stated that time is of the essence, in the face of growing competition from similar services.