FCC Proposes To Kill LightSquared Plans

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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

here

.)

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

"rigged" tests

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.

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