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October 6, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
LightSquared, the capital venture that is locked in a dispute with the GPS industry over a proposed mobile-satellite network shown to disrupt aviation navigation, “has put regulators on the spot by raising the specter of litigation,” said a senior AOPA executive this week.
“Using the ‘L’ word—for lawsuit—or suggesting it in comments to the media is a distraction. But that tactic does not change the fact that LightSquared wants to build a system that is inappropriate in that portion of the radio spectrum, as tests have repeatedly shown,” said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs.
LightSquared has become more embattled in recent months by a growing chorus of criticism of the conditional approval it received for its network in January. Last month, some elected officials demanded that the Federal Communications Commission justify its actions to date on the company’s network application. Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski Sept. 22 to urge that the commission focus on resolving the GPS interference issues, and resist political pressure.
Petri is aviation subcommittee chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Accelerating its media campaign, the Oct. 3 comments by a company executive during a conference call with reporters set off a flurry of new media activity, with various news organizations reporting that the company might take measures to protect its “legal rights.” LightSquared did not elaborate on a legal strategy.
In two preceding media contacts, LightSquared issued a news release Sept. 21, acknowledging “GPS interference issues” but revealing that it had signed an agreement to solve them for high-precision GPS devices. On Oct. 1, the technology-investment venture released a statement attributed to its general counsel, who accused the GPS industry of claiming “falsely” that it was “caught off guard by LightSquared’s network.”
Rudinger urged the company to face up to the facts about the proposed network’s safety risks—and realize that their proposal to utilize spectrum adjacent to GPS inappropriately is putting potentially thousands of lives at risk.
“It is regrettable and inappropriate that a LightSquared spokesman continues to cloud the issue and put regulators on the spot by raising the specter of litigation,” she said.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) wants the principals of satellite network venture LightSquared to make public disclosure of communications that could dispel any question that “improper influence” played a part in their dealings with regulators.
Grassley, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned elements of public statements and newspaper ads that LightSquared has issued since opposition arose to its planned network, which has been shown to ruin aviation GPS navigation signals. He also wants to know whether attempts were made to pressure the Federal Communications Commission to speed approval of the network investment project.
“Given LightSquared’s desire to reach out to the public, a gesture of good faith and openness would speak strongly toward LightSquared’s desire to act in a responsible and transparent manner,” he wrote to Sanjiv Ahuja, LightSquared’s chairman and CEO in an Oct. 5 letter. Grassley sent a similar letter to Philip Falcone of Harbinger Capital Partners of New York, the major investor in the venture.
“If Harbinger has nothing to hide and would like to put questions of improper influence at the FCC, Department of Commerce, and White House to rest, the public release of these communications would allow Congress and the American people to fully examine the facts and decide for themselves,” he wrote to Falcone.
Grassley said he would appreciate a response to his questions, including the release of communications, by Oct. 19.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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