Deborah McAdams is the Executive Editor of TV Technology.
What started as a promising broadband proposal has devolved into classic Beltway theater, complete with allegations of cronyism, undue influence and all manner of intrigue.
The LightSquared script pits a hedge fund billionaire against the everyman GPS user at a time when ordinary people are gathering on Wall Street with pitchforks and torches. Woe to the politicians who do not appear to be prepared to look like they will stop LightSquared in its tracks!
GPS users are to LightSquared what ham radio operators were to broadband over power lines. Except for one minor difference: $5.2 billion. That's how much investors have tied up in LightSquared today.
Broadband over power lines disappeared before anyone without a call sign heard of it. LightSquared is teetering on full-blown scandalhood after a four-star general told members of Congress that the White House urged him to change his testimony about the company's technology.
LightSquared's planned wireless broadband network interferes with global positioning systems. LightSquared said, "We can fix it." The general said, "You and what army?" Republicans banged shoes on podiums while on camera, but not one single politician has directed regulators to pull the plug on LightSquared.
That $5.2 billion reaches into quite a few pockets that undoubtedly buy Cohibas on both sides of the aisle.
Meanwhile, the larger more important object lesson of LightSquared is getting lost: The nation's spectrum management model is obsolete. Built-out TV spectrum is being poached for broadband while wireless providers sit on hundreds of MHz of unused frequencies. The design of GPS devices presumes limited operations in nearby bandwidth based on the regulatory framework. A reversal of the regulatory framework unfortunately did not fortify the interference rejection capacity of GPS devices. Consequently, a start-up that could finally bring broadband to remote areas is sitting on billions of real estate it can't use.
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