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Future of GPS hanging on FCC decision

Broadband network could interfere with GPS. Agriculture, military, aviation and first responders could be affected. Not enough evidence that interference will not occur.

If the Federal Communications Commission extends a waiver to a group attempting to implement wireless broadband nationwide, the Global Positioning System as we know it could be severely affected.

A company called LightSquared, which is backed by the Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, is working to launch a wireless broadband network. Their goal is to build out a nationwide 4G ancillary terrestrial component (ATC) network that would cover 260 million people in the United States by 2014.

In January, the FCC granted LightSquared a conditional waiver, which allows them to proceed with the project in a limited fashion while a working group conducts research to determine whether the LightSquared network and GPS can coexist with no interference.

This could have a significant impact on many technologies, especially those in precision agriculture that rely on GPS technology for everything from planting seed to the targeted application of fertilizer and pesticides on crops. Interference with this technology could result in higher costs for seed, fertilizer, fuel and ultimately, labor.

"As an organization that represents rural areas of West Texas, we understand the need for nationwide wireless broadband access," Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., Executive Vice President Steve Verett said. "However, it shouldn't be at the expense of so many who could suffer negative effects."

Along with agriculture, others affected by GPS interference would include the United States military, emergency responders, and the aviation industry.

"In addition to the potential implications for agriculture, we are concerned for all GPS technologies," Verett said. "While we appreciate what LightSquared is attempting to accomplish, there is not yet enough evidence that there will be no GPS interference with their technology."

Verett went on to say that until it can be indisputably proven that there would be no interference, PCG will not support the FCC's action and currently is in the process of submitting a letter to the FCC.

Companies such as John Deere already have sent letters to the FCC, and U.S. Reps. Randy Neugebauer, Collin Peterson, Steve Austria and Ralph Hall co-authored a letter to the FCC "requesting that the FCC only grant final approval to LightSquared if the company can indisputably demonstrate that their proposal will not interfere with GPS technology."

A final report is to be submitted by June 15 after which a decision will be made by the FCC regarding the continuation of the LightSquared project.

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