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FCC Proposes To Kill LightSquared Plans

Washington – The Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) had proposed to repeal its conditional approval
of LightSquared’s planned terrestrial 4G cellular network, but LightSquared
said it still sees hope for its plans.

The FCC based its decision on a
conclusion by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration
(NTIA) “that there is no practical way to mitigate potential interference [with
GPS devices] at this time.”

LightSquared planned to repurpose
satellite spectrum next to the GPS band to build a national terrestrial LTE
cellular and offer service on a wholesale to companies that would resell the
service to end users. Best Buy was among the many companies that had signed up
to resell LightSquared service under its own name.

The NTIA, which coordinates
spectrum uses for the military and other federal government entities, said in a
letter to the FCC that “it is clear that LightSquared’s proposed implementation
plans, including operations in the lower 10MHz [farther from the GPS band] would impact both general/personal navigation and certified aviation GPS
receivers.” NTIA also contended that “there are no mitigation strategies that
both solve the interference issues and provide LightSquared with an adequate
commercial network deployment.” (You can read the text of the NTIA letter



In late 2010, the FCC granted a
conditional waiver order that allowed LightSquared to begin commercial
operation only after harmful interference issues were resolved. Now, because of
the NTIA recommendation, the commission said it “will not lift the prohibition
on LightSquared,” and the commission proposed last night to vacate the
conditional waiver and indefinitely suspend LightSquared’s authority to build
its network.

Because the FCC must seek
comments before following through with its intentions, LightSquared sees an
opportunity to overcome the FCC’s objections. “The company fully expects the
agency to recognize LightSquared’s legal rights to build its $14 billion, privately
financed network,” LightSquared said. The FCC’s recommendation, the company
said, “is just one step in the process.” The “final regulatory decision rests
now with the FCC, which is the proper authority to resolve this issue.”

LightSquared expects the FCC to
side with its contention that the NTIA relied on “flawed conclusions” by a
federal advisory board. “NTIA relies on interference standards that have never
been used in this context and were forced by the GPS community in order to
reach the conclusions presented today,” LightSquared charged. “This, together
with a severely flawed testing process that relied on obsolete and niche
devices, shows that the FCC should take the NTIA’s recommendation with a
generous helping of salt.”

Last month, LightSquared claimed
that the advisory board, called the Positioning, Navigation, and Timing
Executive Committee (PNT EXCOM), based its conclusions on


conducted for it by the GPS industry, that GPS industry members
“cherry-picked” the GPS receivers to be tested, and that GPS makers focused the
tests mainly on “obsolete and niche devices” that included discontinued GPS
receivers and devices manufactured as far back as 1997. The tested devices were
“ringers” and don’t reflect devices on the market today, LightSquared VP Geoff
Stern said at the time.

For its part, the FCC urged
Congress, other federal agencies, and private sector stakeholders to work with
it “in a concerted effort to reduce regulatory barriers and free up spectrum
for mobile broadband.” That effort, the FCC said in taking LightSquared’s
position on one issue, “should address [GPS] receiver performance to help
ensure the most efficient use of all spectrum to drive our economy and best
serve American consumers.”

LightSquared had complained that
interference issues were caused by GPS makers that sell “unlicensed and poorly
designed” receivers that listen in on its spectrum.