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GPS signals, broadband coverage and White House message massaging (UPDATED)

By now, producers are likely aware that the signals needed to run GPS devices could be overwhelmed by a proposed broadband network proposed by a massive telecommunications company, LightSquared.

LightSquared’s plans – which would bring much-needed broadband coverage to rural America – were approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last January. That approval was put on hold when it was discovered that LightSquared’s system interfered with – or, in some cases, knocked out -- the GPS signal. The interference not only hampers precision agriculture but impacts emergency responses and has the Department of Defense worried about, among other things, automated systems and missile targeting.

In response, Save Our GPS -- a coalition of GPS-reliant industries and advocacy groups -- formed and is lobbying the FCC and other government entities for a proper solution before LightSquared is allowed to continue with its building plans.

The National Cotton Council “was made aware of this issue in February of this year when we were asked to join a coalition, Save Our GPS, that includes commodities as well as GPS manufacturers/users including John Deere, Trimble and other manufacturers, along with the Department of Defense and private aviation interests, the Coast Guard and state and local public safety interests that use GPS,” Bill Norman, NCC Vice President of Technical Services, told Farm Press in late August.

For more on the NCC position, see here and here.

One of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s main priorities “is to get broadband deployment to rural America,” says R.J. Karney, AFBF Appropriations Specialist. “That will be beneficial for distance learning and education, public safety, tele-medicine, all kinds of assistance for commerce.”

Even so, says Karney, the GPS signal mustn’t be impacted. “From the AFBF standpoint, we’d like to see that initiative working – but we want the FCC to ensure, before LightSquared is allowed to turn their service on, that there is no GPS interference.”

LightSquared has vowed to fix the GPS signal interference.

However, the company’s plan will now face incredible scrutiny by government watchdogs and Republicans in Congress. Why? A Thursday report in The Daily Beast sheds light on how LightSquared lined up its deal and how the Obama administration – keen to fulfill promises to bring broadband coverage to the nation – apparently helped massage its message.

Oh, yeah, and the head of LightSquared, Philip Falcone, just happens to be a major contributor to the Democratic Party.

One intriguing part of the Eli Lake piece is sure to have Obama’s opponents salivating. Lake says in a meeting with lawmakers last week, Gen. William Shelton (who oversees the U.S. Space Command) admitted he’d been pressured by the White House during preparations for earlier GPS/Lightsquared testimony.   

“Shelton was originally scheduled to testify Aug. 3 to a House committee that the project would interfere with the military’s sensitive Global Positioning Satellite capabilities,” writes Lake.

“According to officials familiar with the situation, Shelton’s prepared testimony was leaked in advance to the company. And the White House asked the general to alter the testimony to add two points: that the general supported the White House policy to add more broadband for commercial use; and that the Pentagon would try to resolve the questions around LightSquared with testing in just 90 days. Shelton chafed at the intervention, which seemed to soften the Pentagon’s position and might be viewed as helping the company as it tries to get the project launched, the officials said.”

The entire report can be found here.


Lake furthers his early reporting with a Tuesday (Sept. 20) story citing more government officials claiming White House "guidance" prior to LightSquared-related testimony before Congress.

The follow-up report can be found here.




TAGS: Legislative
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