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LightSquared, Farm GPS Saga Continues

LightSquared, Farm GPS Saga Continues

Latest report says there are no mitigation strategies for GPS interference, but LightSquared cries foul stating that the test is biased, rigged.

The fight over the potential interference of a new land-based broadband service with existing GPS systems took a new turn late last week as a group of nine government agencies weighed in on the issue stating there is no way to avoid GPS interference from the LightSquared system. But the Reston, Va., company isn't taking the news lightly, fighting back with a counter-claim that this latest report was biased and heavily influenced by the GPS industry.

For farmers, concerned about their GPS equipment and potential interference, there's still no clear-cut answer as to what happens next. The Federal Communication Commission will produce the final ruling on this issue - a ruling that LightSquared already asked the agency to speed up in recent weeks.

The latest challenge comes from the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Executive Committee - or PNT ExComm - which includes nine federal agencies. They concluded - unanimously - that test findings of both LightSquared's original and modified plans for its proposed mobile network "would cause harmful interference to many GPS receivers," according to a memo released Friday.

In the release announcing the decision, PNT ExComm also notes that the Federal Aviation Administration has concluded that the LightSquared proposals are not compatible with several GPS-dependent aircraft safety-of-flight systems. The memo adds: "Based upon this testing and analysis, there appear to be no practical solutions or mitigations that would permit the LightSquared broadband service, as proposed, to operate in the next few months or years without significantly interfering with GPS."

LightSquared fired back with allegations that the test program from PNT ExComm was biased, non-scientific and drew the wrong conclusions. Jeff Carlisle, executive vice president, regulatory affairs and public policy, LightSquared, notes that the latest test results were opposite of those found in the Technical Working Group, which presented its findings to FCC last June. "Here the testing was shrouded in mystery," Carlisle says. "There were non-disclosure agreements between participants…and there was extensive participation by GPS equipment manufacturers."

He notes that the devices PNT ExComm tested were "cherry picked" by GPS makers and some of the items tested were obsolete and not may not even be on the market anymore. In addition, he notes that some equipment tested - the company just obtained a list of items tested but could not share with media due to non-disclosure agreements - included "bare" GPS receivers with no filtering at all. This would not be equipment that would be sold in the marketplace.

The challenge for all following this issue is the highly technical nature of the issues at hand. LightSquared maintains that it is already authorized to build its network using a spectrum it was granted in 2005. The latest issues represent an effort by the GPS industry to "claw back" that authority.

The Save Our GPS Coalition issued a statement Monday from Dale Leibach, acting as a spokesman for the industry group. In the statement, Leibach says: " LightSquared has been afforded every possible opportunity to make its technical case, and has failed to demonstrate that it can avoid interference to many critical GPS based activities. Over the last year, it has proposed numerous modifications to its proposals which it claimed would solve the interference problem. Each of these proposals has been extensively evaluated and none have been found adequate to eliminate widespread interference to GPS. No credible, independent expert or organization has come forward to support LightSquared’s claims of non-interference to millions of existing GPS devices."

While this latest technical report is an added speedbump for LightSquared, it all still hinges on that FCC ruling. Given that LightSquared is aiming to invest $14 billion in its new 40,000-tower network and the potential for economic stimulus, perhaps a solution can be worked out. Given the permits LightSquared holds and the investment already made, a refusal to grant final authorization to move ahead, could end up in the courts.

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