The Federal Communications Commission moved on Tuesday to block LightSquared’s planned nationwide wireless network over concerns that it cannot be fixed to coexist with global positioning systems.
The FCC is the final word on whether LightSquared can proceed, unless the company decides to take the issue to court.
The FCC’s decision was prompted by the conclusions of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which advises the president on telecom issues and formally concluded earlier Tuesday evening that LightSquared’s proposed wireless should not go forward.
The quick reaction seemed to catch LightSquared off guard. Just an hour before the FCC announced its decision, a LightSquared spokesman blasted the NTIA conclusion and said the company “fully expects the [FCC] to recognize LightSquared’s legal rights to build its $14 billion, privately financed network.”
The decision marks a colossal fall from grace for the wireless startup, which has waged a bitter fight over the network for more than a year. LightSquared wants to build a nationwide wholesale wireless network based on satellites and ground transmitters.
LightSquared’s innovative use of spectrum fit nicely with FCC goals to use more spectrum for wireless communication. In its statement on Tuesday the agency said that LightSquared’s plan offered “the potential to unleash new spectrum for mobile broadband and enhance competition.”
The company planned to operate on spectrum near that used by GPS. When tests showed that LightSquared’s network would overpower GPS transmissions, a coalition of GPS manufacturers and users organized to block the plan.
Federal agencies like the Defense and Transportation departments, which rely on GPS, began to voice their concerns and soon Congress was holding hearings.
The FCC said it will not lift the restrictions on LightSquared’s plan. The commission also proposed to end earlier FCC orders that gave LightSquared authority to build some parts of its network.
“Consequently, the Commission will not lift the prohibition on LightSquared," it added. "A public notice seeking comment on NTIA’s conclusions and on these proposals will be released tomorrow.”
The NTIA has been analyzing tests for months, and on Tuesday the agency told the Federal Communications Commission that it sees no way for LightSquared’s plans to move forward.
“Based on NTIA’s independent evaluation of the testing and analysis performed over the last several months, we conclude that LightSquared’s proposed mobile broadband network will impact GPS services and that there is no practical way to mitigate the potential interference at this time,” NTIA administrator Lawrence Strickling wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
The FCC did throw LightSquared a small bone. LightSquared argued that the interference problems were caused by GPS devices that weren’t designed correctly. In its statement the commission said efforts should be made to fix such receivers so that more spectrum can be used.
“This proceeding has revealed challenges to maximizing the opportunities of mobile broadband for our economy,” the FCC said in the statement. “There are very substantial costs to our economy and to consumers of preventing the use of this and other spectrum for mobile broadband. Congress, the FCC, other federal agencies, and private sector stakeholders must work together in a concerted effort to reduce regulatory barriers and free up spectrum for mobile broadband.”