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FCC Nixes LightSquared

The FCC has dealt a big blow to the hopes of LightSquared to launch a wholesale wireless broadband network, a network the FCC had hoped to be able to approve.

The FCC Tuesday moved to vacate LightSquared's conditional waiver order and indefinitely suspend its ancillary terrestrial authority, according to FCC spokeswoman Tammy SUn.

That announcement came late Tuesday after the National Telecommunications & Information Administration sent a letter to the FCC saying that there was no practical way to mitigate potential interference from LightSquared transmissions to GPS devices.

 The FCC had granted LightSquared a conditional waiver that would have allowed it to use its satellite spectrum to deliver terrestrial wireless broadband service as part of a wholesale nationwide network.

The FCC was looking to promote price and service competition, but had conditioned the waiver on resolving GPS interference issues.

"NTIA, the federal agency that coordinates spectrum uses for the military and other federal government entities, has now concluded that there is no practical way to mitigate potential interference at this time," said Sun in a statement. "Consequently, the Commission will not lift the prohibition on LightSquared.  The International Bureau of the Commission is proposing to (1) vacate the Conditional Waiver Order, and (2) suspend indefinitely LightSquared's Ancillary Terrestrial Component authority to an extent consistent with the NTIA letter."

She said the FCC would issue a public notice Wednesday seeking comment on those moves.

Sun also said that the LightSquared proceeding had revealed the challenges to maximizing opportunities for mobile broadband, including receivers. "Congress, the FCC, other federal agencies, and private sector stakeholders must work together in a concerted effort to reduce regulatory barriers and free up spectrum for mobile broadband," she said. "Part of this effort should address receiver performance to help ensure the most efficient use of all spectrum to drive our economy and best serve American consumers."

"The FCC has acted appropriately by declaring that its non-interference condition has not been satisfied and that LightSquared will not be permitted to move forward with its proposal to build a nationwide high-powered terrestrial network in the mobile satellite band," said the Coalition to Save Our GPS, the GPS industry group that has been fighting hard against the LightSquared waiver.

LightSquared had modified its proposal to move further away from the adjacent GPS band and reduce power, as well as working with receiver manufacturers to find a fix. On the other side were a host of government agencies and GPS manufacturers who said the service would interfere with navigation, weather forecasting and defense applications.

LightSquared has continued to strike deals for the proposed service, and a multi-billion dollar deal with Sprint to build out the network.

LightSquared had said earlier in the day that NTIA's recommendation was flawed and had hoped the FCC would recognize its "legal rights" to build its $14 billion network. "There is no question that an America where both the GPS industry and LightSquared's network can co-exist is a stronger one for any administration that believes in competitive markets and job growth," the company said in a statement.

The FCC did not see it that way, at least not in the near future.

"Free Press and other public interest groups defended the LightSquared concept from the beginning, based on the wireless broadband market's desperate need for new options and the spectrum resources LightSquared promised for competitors and new entrants," said Free Press policy director Matt Wood, in response to the FCC and NTIA comments. "We also advocated for the receiver standards necessary to put fallow spectrum to use rather than leave it captive to existing users. Yet we have recognized all along the seriousness of the interference arguments made by both sides in this complex proceeding, and now look forward to reviewing NTIA's findings and the FCC's response."