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Newly Signed Appropriations Measure Adds Layer of Political Protection for GPS

Congressman Turner warns FCC against approving LightSquared petition.

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December 29, 2011

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When President Obama signed the $1 trillion dollar federal appropriations bill just before Christmas, he also inked into law a provision further protecting GPS receivers from interference from the wireless network proposed by LightSquared.

The Virginia firm has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to permit the company to build a nationwide 4G broadband network of up to 40,000 ground stations that would broadcast in the frequencies immediately below those used by GPS. Tests so far have shown the powerful signals will negatively impact a wide variety of government and civilian GPS receivers.

Section 628 of the massive funding bill forbids the FCC from spending money to give LightSquared a go-ahead until the agency “has resolved concerns of potential widespread harmful interference . . . to commercially available Global Positioning System devices.”

The provision changes nothing, said a LightSquared representative.

“The legislative language is entirely consistent with the FCC’s waiver order from earlier this year,” said spokesman Chris Stern referring to the FCC’s January 26 decision to give LightSquared’s plans conditional approval. “That order said that the GPS interference issue would have to be resolved before LightSquared turned on its network.”

However, the new law could undermine a recent LightSquared request aimed at getting the FCC to decide the matter quickly by denying protection of GPS.

In a December 21 petition for a declaratory ruling the company asked the Commission to “resolve” the interference controversy by declaring that GPS users are not entitled to protection from interference from its network.

In its filing, the company reiterated its long-standing position that GPS manufacturers were at fault for any interference problems because of limits in their receivers’ design — limits that LightSquared contends should have been addressed when, years ago, the FCC raised the power limits and number of towers LightSquared’s predecessor firms were allowed to use.

Congress, however, may not accept a decision in favor of LightSquared.

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, warned the FCC that granting LightSquared’s declaration request would be “inconsistent with Congress’ position’ on LightSquared’s waiver.”

As chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Turner co-sponsored a provision in the fiscal year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that is nearly identical to the appropriations language. The NDAA measure instructs the FCC not to permit LightSquared operations “until the Commission has resolved concerns of widespread harmful interference … to covered GPS devices.”

Approval of LightSquared’s recent request “would be prohibited by our legislation,” Turner said in a December 22 statement. “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 [Department of Defense] GPS systems.”

The authorization bill, which is awaiting President Obama’s signature, creates an additional two-year reporting requirement aimed at ensuring that someone is monitoring any future LightSquared deployment. It requires the DoD to file reports every 90 days detailing GPS interference from commercial systems, how the Pentagon is dealing with such interference, and the costs involved.

Passage of the two bills capped a month of rapid-fire developments and maneuvering in which LightSquared presented members of Congress with results from tests it sponsored at the Lucent-Alcatel laboratories. Those results indicated, the company said, that new filtered, high-precision GPS receivers operating in the lower of the firm’s two 10-MHz bands, were compatible with the firm’s network. The federal government plans tests on high-precision receivers early next year.

Earlier in December a widely publicized leak of federal test results on general navigation receivers indicated that LightSquared’s network was incompatible with 75 percent of the devices tested. The firm has called for an investigation into who leaked a summary of the test findings.

Copyright © 2011 Gibbons Media & Research LLC, all rights reserved.

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