FCC Delays LightSquared Launch

WASHINGTON: The Federal Communications Commission today said LightSquared could not yet launch its broadband service. The commission issued a Public Notice supporting the a Commerce Department official's recent request for further testing of LightSquared’s proposed satellite-terrestrial broadband network and its impact on global positioning systems. The commission gave LightSquared approval last January for the Ancillary Terrestrial Component of its operation on the condition that it not interfere with GPS. That condition remains intact, the FCC said, and noninterference has yet to be established to the satisfaction of the far-flung GPS community.

“LightSquared may not commence ATC operations until the commission, in consultation with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, finds that GPS interference concerns have been satisfactorily resolved,” the Notice stated. “Following extensive comments received as a result of the technical working group process required by the International Bureau’s Order and Authorization dated Jan. 26, 2011, the FCC, in consultation with NTIA, has determined that additional targeted testing is needed to ensure that any potential commercial terrestrial services offered by LightSquared will not cause harmful interference to GPS operations.”

LightSquared has been working against the clock to resolve GPS interference issues. The privately funded company planned to offer service this year, creating the nation’s first nationwide 4G LTE network with terrestrial and satellite coverage. Intended as a wholesale-only offer, LightSquared already has more than a dozen customers ready to resell access to its network. Meanwhile, the company is burning through cash. LightSquared is funded primarily by Harbinger Capital, a New York-based hedge fund run by Philip Falcone, who founded LightSquared. Harbinger has put in a reported $2.9 billion. A network-sharing deal with Sprint alone will cost LightSquared $9 billion in cash and $4.5 billion in service credits over an 11-year period.

LightSquared executives expected regulatory approval this month after a revised operational plan was submitted in June. LightSquared offered to launch in the lower 10 MHz of its spectrum, leaving a 10 MHz buffer band next to the frequencies where GPS devices operate. The company also said it would launch the terrestrial part of its operation at significantly reduced power. The FCC consequently sought feedback on the revised proposal, prompting support from municipalities in need of broadband, but a hue and cry from GPS users, including farmers, aviators, land surveyors and international users, among others. More than 3,300 comments have been filed in the FCC’s LightSquared docket in less than three months.

“The results thus far from the testing using the lower 10 MHz showed significant improvement compared to tests of the upper 10 MHz, although there continue to be interference concerns, e.g., with certain types of high-precision GPS receivers, including devices used in national security and aviation applications. Additional tests are therefore necessary,” the FCC’s Notice said.

Last Friday, the NTIA’s Lawrence Strickling sent a letter to the Departments of Defense and Transportation, urging them to commence joint testing with LightSquared on its revised operational plan as soon as possible--sort of. His communiqué initially requests that testing be completed by Nov. 30, but later waffles on the date because of an additionally proposed fix for high-precision devices.

Strickling noted that LightSquared was “undertaking to procure the design and manufacture of a filter to mitigate these unacceptable impacts.” He said LightSquared agreed to allow the federal agencies to test and evaluate the filters.

“Given this commitment, we see no reason for any further testing of high-precision receivers until LightSqured presents its filtering solution to the federal agencies for testing and evaluation,” Strickling’s letter stated. “At that time, the federal agencies will need to develop and execute a plan to test and analyze LightSquared’s proposed mitigation.”

In closing, Strickling said “given the open issues that remain with respect to precision and timing receivers, this work need not be completed by Nov. 30.”

~ Deborah D. McAdams