Official: FCC Waiting for ‘Formal Word' From NTIA on LightSquared Interference

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By Paul Barbagallo  

The Federal Communications Commission is awaiting official confirmation from the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration on whether network signals from LightSquared Inc.'s proposed mobile broadband network will interfere with government users of global positioning systems devices, an FCC official said Jan. 17.

FCC Wireless Competition Bureau Chief Rick Kaplan, speaking during's Broadband Breakfast Club event, said the agency will withhold final approval of LightSquared's network build-out until all testing is completed and the NTIA has reached its conclusions.

“The bottom line at the moment is that the FCC is waiting for the NTIA to get back to us as to where things stand with the testing,” Kaplan said, responding to a question from a reporter.

Of the two federal agencies with jurisdiction over the airwaves, the FCC manages all commercial and public radio spectrum in the United States, while the NTIA manages the federal government's use of the spectrum.

“We're waiting for formal word from NTIA, which is working through those issues, and once we get it, we'll move on from there,”Kaplan said.

Just days ago, federal agencies dependent on the GPS dealt LightSquared another major blow, concluding that the company's network could not operate without causing harmful interference to GPS devices.

In a Jan. 13 letter to NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling obtained by Bloomberg BNA, the co-chairs of the National Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Executive Committee stated that “no additional testing is warranted at this time.” The recommendation came after follow-up tests were conducted for general location/navigation and cellular GPS devices.

Kaplan acknowledged that he is aware of the letter, but noted that the agency had yet to receive anything official from the NTIA on the matter.

“We will do nothing to harm GPS in any way whatsoever,”he said. “It's obviously an essential service to our national defense and our economy.”

GPS Industry, Government Concerns.

In January 2011, the FCC issued LightSquared a conditional waiver to begin constructing a network capable of offering high-speed wireless internet service on a wholesale basis to as many as 260 million people in the United States on airwaves formerly reserved mainly for satellites.

Since then, the company—and the FCC—has faced intense criticism from members of Congress, GPS device manufacturers, and government agencies and corporations that rely on GPS technology.

Their overarching concern is that LightSquared's network requires the company to deploy significantly more terrestrial base stations to operate in the Mobile Satellite Service downlink band. These base stations, which were originally intended only as a “fill in”where mobile satellite service coverage is inadequate, emit much higher power and stand to create substantially more interference with GPS operations.

Despite concessions made by LightSquared to move operations to a different set of frequencies and lower the power levels of its network transmissions, the latest round of testing bodes ill for the start-up company.

Hours after the Jan. 13 began circulating, LightSquared asked the NTIA to oversee additional testing, complaining that federal agencies have “demonstrated bias and inappropriate collusion with the private sector.”

LightSquared Pushes Back.

LightSquared has been engaged in an aggressive lobbying campaign for months to persuade the NTIA and FCC and Congress that its network can co-exist with GPS users.

LightSquared has even taken several swipes at the GPS industry's own technology.

The company claims that GPS operators have not properly adhered to what is known as the Global Positioning System Standard Positioning Service Performance Standard, issued by the Department of Defense in September 2008, which calls for GPS receivers to filter out transmissions from adjacent bands in order to achieve optimal performance for the GPS system.

While the DoD, like the FCC, does not mandate receiver performance, the Defense Department has made clear that the standards comprise “minimum usage assumptions,” LightSquared argues.

In his remarks at the Broadband Breakfast Club event, the FCC's Kaplan suggested that receiver standards are a problem that the FCC and industry needs to address. He did not single out GPS specifically, however.

“We must tackle the problem of legacy systems that don't today make the most efficient use of spectrum,” Kaplan said. “We simply cannot afford to allow these inefficiencies, such as poorly designed receivers, to continue to hamper our ability to get most out of spectrum in the long term ... We must develop a plan that addresses the problem going forward.”

LightSquared plans to hold a conference call Jan. 18 to discuss the test results and its “next steps.”