may be in the crosshairs of the GPS industry, but local lawmakers eager for broadband
competition are calling for cooler heads. State lawmakers from across the country
are urging the Federal Communications Commission to fix whatever’s broken between
LightSquared and the global positioning systems. The GPS community opposes LightSquared’s
proposed 4G LTE satellite-terrestrial broadband network because initial trials demonstrated
New York State Senate Majority Whip William J. Larkin, Jr., went to bat for LightSquared
on behalf of first responders.
“As a retired Army officer… I realize how important our nation’s communications
networks are in times of national emergencies,” he
wrote. “A communications
network that can provide uninterrupted service during power outages and natural
disasters would help strengthen our ability to protect and serve people in need.”
Jeffrey D. Klein, also a New York State Senator, urged the commission to resolve
the GPS interference issues and launch the network.
“The idea of a fully integrated 4G LTE wholesale network that will help bring low-cost
wireless broadband to the people of New York State is an exciting prospect,”
LightSquared is based in Reston, Va., and funded primarily through Harbinger Capital
Partners, a New York-based private equity firm that’s invested at least $2.9 billion.
Additional capital has been invested by UBS and JP Morgan. The company’s investors
await final approval from the FCC so the network can be launched and begin generating
The FCC halted LightSquared after GPS interference became evident, and LightSquared
responded with a modified launch plan it said would protect 99 percent of GPS receivers.
The FCC opened a proceeding on the modified plan that’s generated nearly 3,300 comment
since June, many from individual GPS users opposing LightSquared’s deployment.
Local and state lawmakers have different concerns, however. Minnesota State Sen.
Ron Latz, for example, endorsed LightSquared to bridge the broadband income-access
gap. Latz said he represented a mixed-income area of suburban Minneapolis.
“Households with incomes below $20,000 have access to broadband at less than one-third
the rate of households over $75,000,” he said in his
access to broadband is increasingly important for all Americans to actively participate
in the workforce.”
Latz also asserted that LightSquared would provide some relief for rising cellphone
“The consolidation of the cellphone market continues, with fewer options and less
competition,” he said. “The application of LightSquared to provide enhanced nationwide
broadband service and cellphone coverage is good news.”
Another Minnesota State Senator, Mike Parry, emphasized the need for broadband in
his mostly rural district.
“My legislative district, which is located in southern Minnesota, includes two regional
centers—Fairbault and Owatonna,”
he said. “These
two communities are surrounded by small towns and farms. The lack of good telecommunications
service is a problem for ambulance crew, state and county police and others that
must respond swiftly to emergency situations.”
Parry said the paucity of broadband access in the area was also a “big barrier to
economic growth.” He also said that since the interference problem lay with GPS
devices rather than LightSquared, that GPS manufacturers ought to ‘take steps to
remedy their devices.”
The mayor of Coachella, Calif., concurred with Parry’s view of broadband and small-town
business development. His Honor Eduardo Garcia said LightSquared would make broadband
more affordable to business owners in his community. He also emphasized the money
being spent to launch the network.
“LightSquared is investing billions of dollars and creating thousands of jobs at
a time when our economy sorely needs, help,”
he said. “The
government should not stand in the way of this kind of investment.”
Nevada Democrats lent their support to LightSquared via a
the party’s political director, Harriet Trudell. She cited LightSquared’s wholesale-only
plan, which would give smaller broadband providers and entrée
in the market. Trudell said she was aware of the GPS problem.
“These interference issues are resolvable with filtering technology added to GPS
devices that mistakenly look inside LightSquared’s spectrum for signal,” she said,
taking up LightSquared’s own defense against GPS opposition.
State lawmakers lining up with LightSquared included others from Missouri, New Mexico,
California, Kansas, Arkansas, and possibly the whole of Minnesota’s House of Representatives.
The Mayor of Middleton, N.J., did likewise, as did Winfred Stone of Go Pogy Bait
and Tackle of Wintrhop, Mass., and Mitchell Balutski, a retired Captain of the Honolulu
Fire Department. They are up against many hundreds of land surveyors, farmers, farm implement
manufacturers, pilots, aircraft makers, GPS dealers, boaters, and others skeptical
that the interference issue can be mitigated.
Concern about LightSquared and its potential impact has reached beyond U.S.
borders as well.
“I am writing to express our deep concerns about the LightSquared system that is
proposed for operation in frequencies immediately below the radionavigation-satellite
service allocation at 1559-161OMHz,”
of the European Commission said. “This band is the core band used by global satellite
navigation systems including GPS and you are no doubt aware that Europe is at the
advanced planning stage for its own system, Galileo, which will be operational by
2014-15, and that will also use this RNSS allocation.
“Analysis carried out in Europe, including by our own technical partner the European
Space Agency, has shown that transmissions from LightSquared base-stations do indeed
have considerable potential to cause harmful interference to Galileo receivers operating
in the United States….
We are confident
that the process put in place by the FCC to deal with internal U.S. concerns about
the threat to GPS reception will reach appropriate conclusions and that these will
take into account our own concerns about reception of
The FCC’s reply comment period on the LightSquared docket officially closed on Monday,
but filings continue to pour in. The commission is expected to decide LightSquared’s
fate next month. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski recently issued what amounted to
an assurance that the agency would protect GPS in the event that LightSquared is
~ Deborah D. McAdams