Uncertainty caused by the Federal Communications Commission's handling of LightSquared's bid to build a nationwide broadband network could hurt future investment and development of new wireless systems, members of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee argued on Friday.
After initially giving conditional approval for LightSquared's plans, the FCC earlier this year revoked the company's approval after tests showed its network could interfere with global positioning systems.
That back-and-forth has been harmful not only for LightSquared, which has since declared bankruptcy, but for consumers who could have benefited from the company's innovative plan to use both satellites and land-based transmitters, House Energy and Commerce Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., said at a hearing on Friday.
Perhaps even more important, he said, are the implications the fiasco could have for future efforts to squeeze more and more services onto a limited amount of wireless spectrum.
"We must not permit regulatory uncertainty at the FCC to deter companies from investments that will bring more competition to the industry and more innovation for consumers," he said. "We must not allow 40 MHz of spectrum to sit fallow while at the same time seek to relocate broadcasters and federal users off their spectrum holdings to free up more space for wireless use. And we must not let poor receiver standards result in more interference issues down the road."
The tests showed that GPS receivers were picking up signals from LightSquared's network, which would have operated in spectrum adjacent to that used by GPS. LightSquared argued that it was the recievers' fault, and therefore it should be up to receiver manufacturers to find a solution to the problem.
But LightSquared's plans were opposed by powerful government agencies like the departments of Defense and Transportation, and GPS companies argue they built their devices based on an understanding that the FCC would allow LightSquared's spectrum to be used in the way the company wanted. In the end the FCC blocked LightSquared until it could come up with a technical fix for the problem.
Stearns and other members of the panel criticized the FCC for allowing LightSquared to move as far along as it did before blocking it, but lawmakers also said the FCC needs to resolve the dispute in a way that will make it clear that companies can develop new uses for spectrum without having to worry about running afoul of "squatters". The FCC has traditionally had more authority to regulate spectrum users than it has to regulate device manufacturers.