FCC urged to freeze network expansion seen as GPS threat

March 2, 2011

AOPA has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reverse the authorization it granted a mobile-satellite services operator to harness a portion of the radio spectrum near the bandwidth used by aviation.

AOPA expressed concerns about risks to aviation and public safety, and raised procedural objections, to the conditional waiver granted to network operator LightSquared, which is seeking authorization to expand its use of bandwidth. The FCC approved LightSquared’s request, but imposed to several compliance conditions after AOPA and other industry organizations objected to the planned expansion, as AOPA reported on Jan. 27.

Given “substantial risks to aviation and the public safety posed by LightSquared’s proposed terrestrial-only operations” in the near-GPS spectrum, “and its likely severe and costly impact on GPS,” the FCC erred in granting the conditional waiver, said AOPA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Melissa Rudinger in AOPA’s application for review. AOPA’s petition requested that all action on LightSquared’s application be withheld until the company shows that its communications network will not interfere with GPS, and will be “without a cost to the aviation user.”

AOPA objected to the vagueness of conditions imposed on LightSquared, and questioned LightSquared’s appointment as a leader of the industry working group that, under the conditional approval order, would resolve spectrum conflicts. The working group’s formation lacked “any procedural guidelines or discernible standards,” the petition said.

Other organizations including GPS manufacturers and satellite operators have also filed petitions requesting review of the waiver granted to LightSquared by the FCC’s international bureau.

On March 1, LightSquared issued a news release announcing that it had filed its first joint report with the U.S. GPS Industry Council in accordance with the conditional waiver. The report “outlines the key milestones for the overall analyses that they plan to conduct together,” it said. “The next report will be filed in March, and it will provide the FCC with details about test plans and procedures. Joint filings providing progress reports will be delivered to the FCC each month, with the final report due June 15, 2011.”