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The Right Decision

Tom Butts is the Editor in Chief of TV Technology.

To many of its critics, the FCC over the years has earned the reputation of being somewhat inept when it comes to making decisions based on technical facts. Like many federal overseers, there's always been a healthy skepticism over whether its policies are influenced by politics or science. As recently as last year, Congress considered a bill to allow commissioners to add engineers to their staff, which this magazine enthusiastically supports. We've never minced words in calling the commission out when we felt that its decisions were not based on sound engineering principles (re: white spaces).

That's why it was gratifying when the FCC announced that it would not allow Reston, Va.-based LightSquared to move forward with its plans to build out a terrestrial-based national wireless broadband service because of concerns over interference to GPS (while the service is terrestrial-based, the company is relying on satellites to fill in coverage gaps). The commission based its decision on studies conducted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that determined that LightSquared could not operate its terrestrial transmitters in L-Band spectrum, which is primarily for satellite operations, without causing interference to GPS devices.

LightSquared's defense was that the problem was with the manufacturers of the GPS devices and proposed the use of signal rejection filters, but the NTIA countered that such a proposal would be a logistical nightmare—and rightly so. Besides, why should the onus be on products already in the market?

LightSquared has vowed to fight on and could sue the commission over its decision. Whether or not it decides to do so, however, the future of the company, which has invested billions in the venture, is in serious jeopardy because of delays. At the same time, the failure of LightSquared will add pressure to Chairman Genachowski's campaign to acquire new spectrum for wireless broadband.

In this instance, the commission really had no choice but to decide against LightSquared. GPS, which is absolutely vital to national security and has become a ubiquitous service for millions of consumers, is also an important tool for broadcasters in ENG and the synchronization of signal frequency networks. The technical facts were too obvious and the risks were just too high.

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