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Aviation, GPS Representatives Warn of LightSquared's 'Catastrophic' Plans Aviation, GPS Representatives Warn of LightSquared's 'Catastrophic' Pl...

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Technology / TECHNOLOGY

Aviation, GPS Representatives Warn of LightSquared's 'Catastrophic' Plans

photo of Josh Smith
February 8, 2012

LightSquared cried foul on Wednesday after one of its staunchest congressional critics held a hearing that aired fears over the company’s proposed wireless networks.

The House Transportation Aviation Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wisc., held a hearing on “a review of issues associated with protecting and improving our nation's aviation satellite-based global positioning system infrastructure.”

That, LightSquared charged, was nothing more than a thinly veiled attack on its network, which has been shown to interfere with GPS devices.


And indeed, while the hearing touched on a range of potential threats to GPS, LightSquared and the Federal Communications Commission were front and center.

The witnesses, who included government officials from the Transportation Department and the United Nations as well as representatives of the airline and GPS industry, took the FCC to task for allowing LightSquared’s plans to advance as far as they have.

The FCC, not represented at the hearing, has blocked LightSquared from activating its network until the interference issues have been resolved. But that’s not enough, said John Foley, a director of aviation technology at the GPS manufacturer Garmin.

Calling GPS a “valuable national treasure,” Foley said the FCC should have conferred more with other government agencies that take a dimmer view of LightSquared’s "catastrophic" plans.

“In short, Garmin and other manufacturers like it have had their businesses greatly disrupted by the failure of constituent parts of the government to coordinate effectively among themselves,” Foley told the panel. “Fortunately for businesses, consumers, and the nation, this year has in essence been a trial run. No system was actually launched or significant threat unleashed that wiped out or began to shut down GPS.”

Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari reiterated government findings that there are “no practical solutions or mitigations” for the interference issues in the near term.

“LightSquared’s proposal would require constant, individual monitoring and adjustments to over 40,000 broadcasting sites nationwide, to ensure that they could be, and would remain, consistent with air safety requirements. This is simply not practical," Porcari said.

The most serious threat to GPS is other companies encroaching near the spectrum on which it operates, said Scott Pace, director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute.

LightSquared says the problem lies with GPS receivers, many of which were designed under the assumption that the neighboring spectrum would not be used for ground transmission. LightSquared spokesman Chris Sterns said the company should have had the opportunity to explain that to the subcommittee.

“Despite repeated requests, we were told there was no need to testify because LightSquared was not the subject of the hearing,” he said. “It’s outrageous that a congressional hearing set up to examine factual issues was only focused on one side of the story -- a side of the story supported by commercial GPS makers who designed faulty devices that depend on using spectrum licensed to LightSquared.’’

On Tuesday, LightSquared formally asked the FCC to require GPS devices to be compatible with other transmissions, but witnesses at Wednesday's hearing said current standards are enough. Instead, Foley said, the FCC should be required to check with other agencies before proceeding with any plans that could harm GPS.

Petri has publicly sided with the GPS industry against LightSquared. Noting that GPS has long been in existence, Petri suggested LightSquared was using its spectrum in “inappropriate” ways. "Don't blame GPS, a service that is vital to our national security, aviation safety and efficiency, serves billions of users and the overall public good,” he told the company in a letter last year.

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