Boaters Gang Up on LightSquared

WASHINGTON: The boating public is lining up against LightSquared, if comments on the latest Federal Communications Commission public notice are any indication.

“I’m sure my wife wants me dead; why do you? Please don’t interfere with the GPS signal so that my kids will not lose another father figure,” wrote Andrew Scanlon in one of more than 1,700 comments posted today on the FCC’s LightSquared docket.

The commission asked for feedback two weeks ago after testing the compatibility of LightSquared’s proposed wireless broadband network with global positioning systems for nearly a year. The agency’s International Bureau asked for public comment on withdrawing conditional permission to let LightSquared launch a mostly terrestrial broadband network on spectrum designated for satellite operations. The permission, in the form of a Conditional Waiver Order, was predicated on LightSquared being able to demonstrate non-interference with GPS devices. As of earlier this month, the Commerce Department agency in charge of the radio frequency spectrum concluded it could not.

The FCC issued a Public Notice Feb. 15, on vacating the Conditional Waiver Order and/or indefinitely suspending LightSquared’s authority to launch terrestrially. Indefinite suspension would leave avenues open for petitions for reconsideration. Vacatur would prohibit LightSquared from proceeding with its current plan, at least for the time being, depending on how it’s written.

Comments are due on the Public Notice March 1. Much of today’s inundation appears to be a response to a press release issued by the boat owners lobby, Boat Owners Association of The United States, based in Alexandria, Va.

“While boaters view the FCC’s move on Feb. 14 [sic] to revoke approval of a new broadband telephone network shown to interfere with the country’s sole navigational system as positive news... we aren’t out of the woods just yet,” the release said. The lobby is “urging boat owners to continue to submit comments by a Thursday, March 1 deadline to ensure the nation’s system of global positioning devices keeps boaters safely on course.”

BoatUS has more than 500,000 due-paying members. The press release contains a link to the FCC’s comment page.

“Wireless broadband service is very important to our daily lives but it should not come at the expense of GPS,” wrote Rose Petrecca.

Edward Harrison says he’s a commercial shrimper, “and the accuracy of my GPS is critical to my operations at sea.”

Bruce M. Westrate sails the California Coast, “often in dense fog,” he said. “I have radar, but radar does not show your position or drift. If I were to lose my GPS positioning at a critical time, it could endanger my passengers, my crew, my vessel and myself.”

Martin Hanssmann says he remembers using nav charts, but notes a “huge increase in boating during the last decades,” and says boating safety now is “critically linked to accurate navigation via GPS.”

The FCC’s public notice did not establish a period for reply comments.
~Deborah D. McAdams