LightSquared’s Travails Mount
December 12, 2011
NEW YORK, RESTON,
VA., and WASHINGTON: LightSquared’s troubles are mounting with lawmakers
and regulators lining up against the company’s proposed satellite-terrestrial
LTE wireless broadband network.
The network interfered with 75 percent of global positioning
systems recently tested by federal authorities, according to Bloomberg’s
Todd Shields. The National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning,
Navigation and Timing Systems Engineering Forum--ExCom--conducted the tests in
early November at the request of the Commerce Department agency that manages
spectrum. The Forum will formerly present results of its test Wednesday,
Concurrently, the Wall
Street Journal reported that LightSquared’s primary investor, Harbinger
Funds, is looking down the barrel of a federal lawsuit. The Securities and
Exchange Commission is said to have notified Harbinger principal Phil Falcone
and other Harbinger investors it plans to pursue fraud charges over
preferential treatment to select investors, including Goldman Sachs.
On a third front, Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley
is threatening to block the confirmation of two Federal Communications
Commission nominees unless he receives information he requested months ago from
News reports. Grassley asked for
documentation regarding LightSquared’s contacts with the White House after it
was reported that company executives contributed $30,400 to the Democratic
party while seeking a meeting with Administration officials.
LightSquared has been increasingly controversial since
securing an imperative waiver from the FCC early this year. LightSquared’s
proposed network was would be the first of its type, relying primarily on
40,000 terrestrial base stations with satellite transmission filing the gaps to
cover the country. However, because its spectrum licenses are for Mobile
Satellite Service in the L-Band, it had to obtain a waiver from the FCC for the
base stations. The FCC granted the waiver in January and chaos ensued when tests
showed interference to GPS systems.
The LightSquared camp said GPS manufacturers failed to build
devices with sufficient interference rejection, but agreed to modify its
proposed plan by launching on the half of its spectrum furthest from the GPS
bands, at lower power. LightSquared said this would mitigate interference to
all but the most sensitive GPS receivers.
The FCC opened up a docket on LightSquared’s modified
proposal, generating an inundation of polarized comments. In general, small
municipalities with limited access to broadband support LightSquared, while
organizations and individuals that rely in any way on GPS technology are fighting
it. The docket has nearly 3,500 filings.
The National Telecommunications and Information
Administration, which manages the radio frequency spectrum, called for more tests
by the FCC on the modified proposal. ExCom conducted its own tests in the
meantime. Results released in July demonstrated “significant detrimental
impacts to all GPS applications.” It’s unclear how the tests conducted by ExCom
in November differ from those used for the July report.
LightSquared is advocating the use of filters to resolve interference
to high-precision GPS devices. It commissioned its own tests from an
independent lab, which revealed the network to be “100 percent compatible” with
the filter-equipped devices. Lawmakers, however, question the cost and time
necessary to retrofit all the high-precision GPS devices used by the military.
Gen. William Shelton testified before members of a House Armed Services
subcommittee in September, saying it would take more than 10 years, and that
the filters could impact the accuracy of GPS receivers.
Regarding the leaked news of the latest ExCom tests,
LightSquared Chairman and CEO Sanjiv Ahuja registered his dismay to the joint
chairman of ExCom, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Deputy
Secretary of Transportation, John D. Porcari. In a letter
to both, Ahuja expressed “profound disappointment and outrage,” over the
“Based on Bloomberg
News’ reporting, it is apparent that this leak was intended to damage
LightSquared’s reputation, spread false information in the marketplace, and
prejudice public opinion against LightSquared before a full and complete
analysis of the testing results had been presented to ExCom, NTIA or the FCC.
LightSquared has suffered serious and substantial injury as a result of this
Ahuja asked that ExCom release a statement “clarifying” the
leak, and commence an investigation into it.
~ Deborah D. McAdams