LightSquared Wants FCC to Set GPS Receiver Standards

LightSquared has asked the FCC to come up with enforceable reliability standards for unlicensed GPS receivers. That came in a petition to the FCC seeking either a rulemaking if the FCC has enough information already, or a notice of inquiry if it does not.

Either way, LightSquared says the goal is to address a market failure by GPS manufacturers. LightSquared says the industry decided "to design and sell poorly filtered devices that purposefully depend on spectrum licensed to LightSquared for accuracy."

LightSquared's FCC waiver to use its satellite spectrum to deliver a wholesale hybrid satellite/terrestrial wireless broadband network is on hold due to interference issues with GPS receivers. LightSquared says that GPS manufacturers did not protect themselves from adjacent-band interference.

The company, which is separately awaiting an FCC decision on when and if it can proceed with its planned network, says that any new standards should ensure that licensees can make full use of their spectrum, which will promote the spectrum efficiency the FCC has been pushing for.  Given the timetable for FCC rulemakings, it was not clear how much help that petition would be to LightSquared's short-term problem of billions of dollars invested and no authorization to proceed with its business plans, which includes a deal with Sprint to build out the network.

"While the agency has in the past depended on market forces to regulate receiver performance, in this case such forces have failed," said LightSquared. "The result is that a relatively small number of users are standing in the way of a $14 billion private investment in a nationwide wireless broadband service that will provide enhanced competition for more than 260 million Americans," said LightSquared. "Adoption of suitable standards would correct market failures and protect consumers from the continued proliferation of devices that are not designed to operate in their own spectrum allocations. In addition, standards would protect end-users in the United States who ultimately purchase and rely on these products."

LightSquared has separately asked the FCC to find that it is within its right to use its licensed spectrum and that GPS manufacturers do not have a right to interference protections because they are not licensed users.

The FCC had not responded to a request for comment at press time, but top staffers have indicated to reporters that the FCC wants to help LightSquared create price and service competition to established wireless carriers, but that it will not lift its hold on the waiver until the GPS interference issues have been resolved.

The GPS industry, which has argued that there is virtually no interference-free path forward for LightSquared's network as currently constituted, remains staunchly in opposition to the company's plans and dismissive of its petition.

"This latest filing yet again proceeds from the same false premises and claims that LightSquared has repeated ad nauseam in its ongoing effort to deny its obligation to avoid harmful interference to millions of government and private GPS users," said Jim Kirkland, VP and general counsel of Trimble, a founding member of the Coalition to Save Our GPS.  "Until January 2011, LightSquared was not authorized to provide nationwide, ubiquitous, high-powered, terrestrial-only services in its licensed mobile satellite spectrum.  The FCC reaffirmed as recently as March 2010 that LightSquared was only authorized to provide limited terrestrial services to fill in the gaps in its satellite coverage.  LightSquared's filing completely ignores the clear regulatory record on this point, and its suggestion that GPS manufacturers should have designed receivers to accommodate a prohibited use is simply self-serving nonsense."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.