LightSquared tests offer 'no practical solution'

GPS-friendly network seen years away

January 31, 2012

AOPA is calling for the Federal Communications Commission to revoke LightSquared's conditional approval to develop a mobile-satellite network.

A technical committee that analyzed test data has concluded that the transmissions pose intractable interference problems for aviation navigation and other uses of GPS. Acting at the request of the FCC, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and nine government agencies of which it is composed, the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Executive Committee (Excomm) tested and analyzed the LightSquared project. The panel worked closely with the company, an effort that it said required a substantial federal expenditure, including resources “diverted from other programs.”

The unanimous opinion of the committee comes as a major blow to LightSquared in its bid to develop the network that has faced widespread opposition since tests last year showed it jamming aviation GPS navigation signals.

The technical committee co-chaired by deputy secretaries of the U.S. defense and transportation departments concluded that there are “no practical solutions” to the LightSquared broadband network's GPS interference.

That result should now move the FCC to revoke the waiver under which LightSquared has been proceeding since last January, said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs.

In a related development, the FCC has opened a public comment period on a LightSquared petition to have the FCC declare GPS devices not entitled to protection from LightSquared's operations, “so long as LightSquared operates within the technical parameters prescribed” under its conditional approval.

The committee's unanimous opinion that LightSquared's original proposal—and subsequent modifications—created harmful interference with GPS comes just at the anniversary of LightSquared's conditional approval to develop the network, contingent on the now-known test results.

In addition to finding that no practical solutions existed for the interference problem, the committee unanimously concluded that the mobile-satellite network was “not compatible with several GPS-dependent aircraft safety-of-flight systems.”

The committee saw no remedy on the horizon that would allow the network to operate “in the next few months or years without significantly interfering with GPS.”

The panel's Jan. 13 letter to the FCC marked the latest in a series of setbacks for the hedge-fund-financed startup that spent much of 2011 pitted against an industry GPS coalition, public-sector GPS users, and more recently, nervous Wall Street investors who have financed the startup to the tune of $2.9 billion. Last fall a securities-law inquiry was opened into some past dealings of LightSquared's financiers, Harbinger Capital Partners.

The FCC should now withdraw its order that allowed LightSquared to proceed, wrote Rudinger in a Jan. 27 letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. The waiver granted to LightSquared, allowing it to use high-powered land-based transmissions as an exception to an “integrated service” rule usually applied, does not serve public interests because of the aviation safety risks, she wrote.

LightSquared blasted the Excomm opinion, claiming in a Jan. 13 news release that it represented a “systematic pattern of bias and collusion.”

The multi-industry Coalition to Save Our GPS, of which AOPA is a member, expressed satisfaction with the report, noting in a statement that LightSquared had “pursued a concerted disinformation campaign to attack and impugn specific companies and individuals who have been part of the process of reviewing its proposals.”

Comment deadline set

As explained in this public notice, interested parties may file comments in response to LightSquared's petition for declaratory ruling in IB Docket No. 11-109 or ET Docket No. 10-142, as appropriate, no later than Feb. 27. Parties may file replies in response to those comments in IB Docket No. 11-109 or ET Docket No. 10-142, as appropriate, no later than March 13.

In announcing the public comment period, the FCC noted that it was now also under new obligations from the recently passed Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2012 not to remove any conditions that have been imposed on LightSquared until concerns about GPS interference are resolved.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz | Aviation Writer

Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.