FCC and NTIA Want More LightSquared Tests, Congressional Hearings Continue

FCC and NTIA Want More LightSquared Tests, Congressional Hearings Continue

As the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) prepares to hold a hearing this week on “Sustaining GPS for National Security,” the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) are both calling for more testing to assess the extent to which LightSquared’s planned mobile broadband communications system will interfere with GPS receivers.

It is the third hearing on the LightSquared issue in the past three months. The House Science, Space and Technology (HSS&T) Committee held a hearing last week and the House Transportation and Infrastructure (HT&I) Committee held one in June.

The HASC hearing, scheduled for Thursday at 11:30 am, is the first to hear from the FCC and NTIA. The FCC regulates use of the airwaves for the private sector, while NTIA (part of the Department of Commerce) does the same for government users. It is FCC’s January 2011 decision to grant LightSquared a provisional license to operate its hybrid satellite-terrestrial network that is creating the controversy. Detractors argue that LightSquared’s system will harmfully interfere with GPS receivers throughout the government and consumer sectors.

At the HSS&T hearing last week, LightSquared’s Jeffrey Carlisle argued that his company had worked with the FCC, NTIA and the GPS industry over many years to resolve potential interference problems. The spectrum assigned to LightSquared by the FCC is adjacent to spectrum used for GPS receivers. LightSquared asserts that the recent controversy stems from new issues raised by the GPS industry just one year ago after the company had spent billions of dollars on the system. LightSquared launched its SkyTerra satellite last year and is preparing to build 40,000 terrestrial cellular towers. The system will provide mobile broadband services using terrestrial signals, satellite signals, or a combination of the two.

The June hearing by the HT&I committee portrayed LightSquard in a largely negative light. Members appeared to be clearly in the corner of the GPS industry and civil government agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in wanting to prevent LightSquared from receiving final permission from the FCC to initiate the terrestrial component of the system. The HSS&T hearing was focused on civil government GPS users for scientific purposes such as weather satellites at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and responding to natural hazards at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The tone was somewhat different, and committee Democrats issued a press release afterwards calling for finding a way for LightSquared and GPS to coexist.

The FCC’s provisional license in January required LightSquared to set up a technical working group with the GPS industry to test the amount of interference that would result if its system became operational. The tests showed significant interference the top 10 megahertz (MHz) of the 20 MHz of spectrum assigned for the system, but less in the bottom 10 MHz. LightSquared subsequently offered to initially deploy its system only in the bottom 10 MHz of the band. The company submitted a new proposal to the FCC last week which Mr. Carlisle appended to his testimony to HSS&T. In response, Anthony Russo, director of the National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT), told HSS&T that the revised proposal requires further study.

The FCC and NTIA agree and also are calling for additional testing. Representatives of both agencies are scheduled to testify at the HASC hearing on Thursday. Also testifying will be the commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command, DOD’s chief information officer (who testified at the HT&I hearing), and Mr. Russo (who testified at the HSS&T hearing).

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