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Critics Call on Congress to Intervene in LightSquared Squabble Critics Call on Congress to Intervene in LightSquared Squabble

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Critics Call on Congress to Intervene in LightSquared Squabble


A GPS device in a car.(ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Critics of LightSquared’s proposal to deploy a mobile wireless broadband service called on Congress on Thursday to block the project from moving forward without substantial changes to address concerns raised about its potential interference with Global Positioning System signals.

“At this point, Congress should put an end to this dysfunctional exercise,” Philip Straub, vice president at Garmin, the top manufacturer of GPS products for the general aviation industry, said during a hearing before two House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittees. At a minimum, Straub said, LightSquared’s proposed operations should be moved to entirely different frequencies, away from those used by GPS. 


LightSquared’s proposed wireless broadband network would combine land-based transmitters with a giant satellite and operate on bandwidth next to spectrum used by GPS.

Officials from the Coast Guard and the Defense and Transportation departments said tests confirm that LightSquared’s initial proposal would interfere with GPS systems used by their agencies.

LightSquared acknowledged this on Monday. The company said it would not use the 10 megahertz closest to the frequencies used for GPS and that it also would operate at lower power than initially authorized by the Federal Communications Commission. “We have no intention of operating our network in a way that will cause dangers to the American public,” Jeffrey Carlisle, LightSquared's executive vice president said. 


The Coast Guard and other federal officials said they would have to test this proposed solution to see if it would be effective.

Officials representing pilots and the airline industry echoed Garmin’s concerns that LightSquared’s proposed network would interfere with air-traffic safety.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., told National Journal that his committee is continuing to watch the controversy and make sure the FCC doesn't do anything that would hamper GPS. "The last thing we want to do is disrupt services related to GPS," he said.

It’s unclear at this point whether Congress will intervene. Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Thomas Petri, R-Wis., said at the start of the hearing that his panel “may request the FCC allow time for full comprehensive testing of plans announced on Monday for potential interference impacts.” 


After the hearing, Petri said he is concerned that the FCC did not consult enough with the affected federal agencies and allowed LightSquared to get too far down the road without fully addressing the interference concerns.

Petri said it is too soon to say what should be done next until more testing on the potential impact of LightSquared’s latest proposal is completed, but added that he would be discussing the issue further with other House committees, including Energy and Commerce, which has jurisdiction over the FCC.

LightSquared's Carlisle warned, however, that if “extraordinary regulatory or legislative action is taken” and his firm is not allowed to try to address the issues on a “cooperative basis,” it could negatively affect industry trust in the spectrum-allocation process and the revenues Congress is counting on collecting from future spectrum auctions.

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