LightSquared Waiver Rescinded by FCC After Legislators’ Letters

Published June 13, 2011

Washington lawmakers continue to grapple with the potential interference to global positioning satellites posed by provider LightSquared’s long-term-evolution terrestrial wireless broadband network. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has stated the FCC will not allow LightSquared to launch commercially until GPS interference concerns are resolved.

Genachowski’s June statement effectively rescinds the FCC’s January 2011 waiver to LightSquared for operation of its network on the L band, which is adjacent to the spectrum reserved for GPS. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) began raising spectrum interference concerns this past April.

The Senate and House also expressed GPS interference concerns in bipartisan letters to the FCC. In May, 34 senators signed a letter to the FCC, which was similar in content to the letter sent later in the month by 66 House members (49 Republicans and 17 Democrats), which stated, “We request that the Commission only approve LightSquared’s waiver if it can be indisputably proven that there will be no GPS interference.”

The FCC granted its integrated-service rule waiver this past January for LightSquared to operate a terrestrial-only LTE network on the L-band satellite spectrum. The company acknowledged at the time that its LTE network might interfere with GPS signals, but assured the interference could be addressed satisfactorily with technological fixes.

Ninety-Two Percent Coverage
If the GPS interference issues are resolved, LightSquared projects its LTE networks will provide wireless broadband coverage to 92 percent of the United States.

The Federal Communications Commission initially refused to rescind LightSquared’s license, prompting other complaints from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and GPS provider Garmin.

In its 2010 annual report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Garmin asserted, “If the FCC were to permit implementation of LightSquared’s proposal as is, terrestrial broadband wireless operations would create harmful interference to GPS receivers within range of such operations.”

The FCC initially waived the rule because LightSquared was already a substantial provider of mobile satellite service (MSS) as noted in its January 26, 2011, Order and Authorization: “LightSquared has provided MSS since 1996, and presently provides service to a variety of different entities, including federal, state, and local agencies involved in public safety and emergency response operations.”

“In an open and transparent process, the FCC has granted LightSquared’s request to create a network capable of satellite and terrestrial wireless communication across the U.S.,” stated Jeff Carlisle, LightSquared’s EVP of Regulatory Affairs. “Millions of Americans have little or no access to high-speed broadband, and, in the spirit of The National Broadband Plan, we will be able to bring nationwide, seamless coverage,”

Voluntarily Reached Agreement
LightSquared received its first authorization by the FCC in 2003 after the company decided to launch LTE technology in satellite frequencies. Carlisle says the issue of GPS interference arose eight years ago. The company reached an agreement with the GPS Industry Council at that time, voluntarily limiting the energy that they would send out into the GPS band down to negligible amounts.

“The voluntary agreement we reached put us under restrictions that were a thousand times stricter than what the FCC eventually adopted in its rules in 2003. But we stuck by our agreement,” Carlisle said.

‘Network and GPS Can Coexist’
In 2006, LightSquared announced it would build its first wireless network, which became the first step in expanding the company’s plans for a nationwide wireless network. In 2009 it announced it would employ LTE technology to build a nationwide broadband wireless network. 

Also in 2009, the company applied for a power increase of 10 times to their base stations. “The reason we asked for that was because at the new power level our base stations would be operating about the same current levels as any other cellular network,” said Carlisle. 

According to Carlisle, the GPS Industry Council participated in that proceeding, and never filed a challenge.
The FCC set a June 15, 2011 deadline for LightSquared to submit a final report on the matter.

“We believe that this process will produce the most reliable results and will show that our network and GPS can coexist,” said Carlisle. 

“That’s exactly what we want,” he added. “A robust GPS system is a vital national resource that LightSquared will not jeopardize.”

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.