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LightSquared parries feds on Capitol Hill

Fri, 09/09/2011 - 8:10am
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

LightSquared again found itself in the hot seat yesterday when it faced pointed questions about its network's impact on GPS service during a congressional hearing before the House Science Committee.

Lawmakers voiced skepticism about LightSquared's ability to mitigate its network's effect on GPS, especially federal uses such as hurricane tracking and disaster response.

"I just don't think we're quite there yet," California Democrat Jerry McNerney said during the hearing. "We need jobs, and this could help create them, but in my opinion we're not quite there yet."

McNerney and other members of Congress at the hearing stopped short of calling for an outright block of LightSquared's planned LTE network but made it clear the company would not be allowed to proceed if it was unable to resolve the GPS interference problem.

"LightSquared has proposed a network to support the president's challenge to identify 500 megahertz of new spectrum for broadband service. While the president's goal is certainly commendable, it should not be accomplished by destroying existing systems and applications," Texas Republican Ralph Hall, head of the House Science Committee, said in his prepared remarks.

Other lawmakers also expressed a desire to move forward with expanded mobile broadband service but said it would not come at the expense of GPS. Hall and other members of Congress at the hearing called for more testing to be done before the FCC allows LightSquared to begin commercial service.

Lawmakers heard testimony from five top federal agencies, including NASA, the Transportation Department, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Witnesses from the agencies called for another round of testing before LightSquared is allowed to move forward with its hybrid satellite-terrestrial mobile broadband service.

When asked by Hall how the nation's weather forecasting could be affected by LightSquared's network, Mary Glackin, deputy under secretary of NOAA, said the agency "has concerns about the impacts of LightSquared."

"[GPS] touches so many parts of our warning mission. … I couldn't give you any confidence today that we would be able to deliver on that mission," Glackin said. "We need much more testing to understand that."

Government agencies want to ensure that LightSquared's revised plan to deploy its network in 10 MHz of spectrum further away from GPS bands will not affect receivers. LightSquared says the plan will resolve the interference problem for nearly all GPS receivers, but challenges remain for high-precision devices used by the military, aviation and agriculture industries.

"LightSquared will address this issue for over 99 percent of the receivers currently used. These steps are not inexpensive to us, and they are not easy, but they can and must be done," LightSquared spokesman Jeff Carlisle said in his prepared remarks. "We are stepping up to this commitment so that Americans can get the benefit of our significant investment in critical infrastructure and continue to have all the benefits of a robust GPS system."

The FCC has said it will not allow LightSquared to move forward with its LTE network until it addresses the service's possible impact on GPS. Testing conducted earlier this year found the network caused widespread blackouts in GPS service under LightSquared's first deployment plan. The company and federal agencies are currently conducting testing on a plan to move the service away from spectrum used by GPS receivers.

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