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LightSquared Slams Testing Results

Making what sounded at times like a last-ditch pitch, Lightsquared executives Wednesday said government testing of its proposed wireless broadband network on GPS devices was rigged to favor that industry and that the National Telecommunications & Information Administration needs to take that into account before making any recommendations to the FCC about allowing the service to proceed.

That came in a press conference with reporters in the wake of last Friday's letter to NTIA from nine federal agencies saying that, based on their testing -- requested by the FCC and NTIA -- there "appears 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," and added that no additional testing was needed on their end.

The FCC granted LightSquared a waiver to use its satellite spectrum for a terrestrial service, so long as it did not interfere with GPS navigation. The letter from the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) executive committee (EXCOM) also referred to an additional FAA analysis found that LightSquared is not compatible with several GPS-based aircraft flight safety systems. PNT EXCOM comprises the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, State, Interior, Transportation, Homeland Security, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and NASA.

Undeterred, LightSquared countered that the test had been rigged to favor the GPS industry. It argues that the test was "shrouded in secrecy," that the devices tested were older and sometimes discontinued models that were not representative and did not present an accurate picture, that the devices that LightSquared did have an effect on represented less than 1% of devices, and that NTIA should take all those factors into account before making any recommendation to the FCC.

LightSquared says NTIA's recommendation should be based on reality not the "fiasco" that was the PCN EXCOM testing process. It wants the NTIA to treat the government tests as flawed and rigged and says there should instead be independent testing with data available to the media and others--parties to the tests had to sign agreements not to disclose their results, though there have been leaks.

LightSquared has a deal with Sprint to build out the network once approved, but Sprint reportedly has given it until the end of January to get government approval, which is a practical impossibility. A LightSquared spokesman said Wednesday that the company continued to talk to Sprint and was still planning on being able to use that company's plant, but that that it was initially going to build out the network itself, that financing had been based on that initial self-buildout, and that that was still an option.

The FCC has made clear it would not proceed until GPS interference issues were resolved, but top officials there have also indicated they wanted those to be resolved so that the company could start providing price and service competition in the growing wireless broadband space.

The LightSquared issue continues to affect the FCC in another way. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, has vowed to hold up the nominations of two new FCC commissioners until the commissioner provides him with internal documents on how it decided to grant the waiver and what contacts it might have had with the Administration and others.

"At each and every turn in this process,
whenever LightSquared does not like a test result or ruling, it either seeks to
change the parameters or cries foul - and frequently both," said Jim
Kirkland, VP and general counsel of Trimble, a founding member of The Coalition
to Save Our GPS." Today's LightSquared statement is more
of the same. A year ago, the FCC's International Bureau provided a conditional
waiver to LightSquared, and that condition was a categorical requirement that
it prove its plans would not interfere with GPS.  LightSquared
assured one and all that its plans would not cause interference with GPS. But test after test
has shown that LightSquared's ill-conceived plans do in fact cause widespread
interference with GPS. LightSquared does not
like the test results, so it is attacking the testers."