Fuller: LightSquared plan ‘toxic drug’ that needs recall

June 23, 2011

AOPA President Craig Fuller on June 23 likened a proposed nationwide wireless broadband network to a “toxic drug” that needs to be recalled.

Testifying at a joint hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s subcommittees on aviation and Coast Guard and maritime transportation, Fuller noted the innovation and nimble nature of the network’s developer, LightSquared, but said, “My biggest beef is with the agency that controls the policy,” referring to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), suggesting that the agency had failed in its responsibility to “do no harm” and protect a vital national resource—GPS.

In written testimony prepared for the hearing, Fuller said, “For one agency of the federal government to have engaged in a procedural process at an accelerated pace that puts our GPS system at risk is confounding. That the same agency actually issued waivers to allow a company to proceed in the face of clear and substantial objections from users, including multiple federal agencies and millions of citizens, is inexplicable.”

During his oral testimony, he noted that when evidence mounts that a drug that has been brought to market is actually harmful, the Food and Drug Administration issues the recall. He suggested that the time has come for the FCC to do the same and rescind the waiver that it issued to LightSquared.

LightSquared’s original proposal, for which the FCC granted a waiver, would create a nationwide wireless broadband network using a satellite and a system of as many as 40,000 ground stations at up to 4 billion times the effective radiated power of GPS satellite signals on frequencies adjacent to those used by GPS. LightSquared has since since modified the plan to use a block of frequencies farther from that used by GPS, and “reduce the maximum authorized power of its base-station transmitters by over 50%.” However, even the frequencies in this new proposal have caused interference issues with precision GPS receivers; industry groups called for LightSquared’s planned operations to be moved to another band altogether.

On the panel with Fuller was Phil Straub, vice president of aviation engineering for Garmin International. He likened the LightSquared proposal to “running a lawnmower in a library.”

In his prepared testimony, Straub said LightSquared’s proposal “conveniently ignores much of the existing user base, especially users of high precision GPS equipment.” Garmin and AOPA are both members of the Coalition to Save our GPS, formed to oppose the LightSquared proposal; Air Transport Association Senior Vice President Tom Hendricks and General Aviation Manufacturers Association President Pete Bunce, both representing members of the coalition, also provided testimony.

Hendricks noted that the proposal was “fraught with technical challenges not yet fully understood.” Bunce said putting the proposal into operation would “compromise public safety, transportation systems, and aeronautical emergency communications.”

In the conclusion of his written testimony, Fuller said, “We … ask that Congress require the FCC to obtain concurrence from FAA and DOD before approving any new or revised LightSquared application. Further, we ask Congress to investigate the process that has brought us to a point where the nation’s entire GPS system is threatened.”