New FCC Decision Dooms LightSquared – UPDATED

New FCC Decision Dooms LightSquared – UPDATED

UPDATE:   Links to the FCC announcement and its request for comments (due March 1) have been added and the article slightly rewritten accordingly.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided to revoke its year-old provisional decision to allow the company LIghtSquared to proceed with its mobile broadband system because of concerns it will interfere with GPS receivers.

LightSquared wants to create a hybrid satellite-terrestrial mobile broadband system.  It received provisional FCC approval to proceed in January 2011 as long as it could demonstrate that its signals would not interfere with Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers that are ubiquitous in the aviation, automobile, personal data assistant and many other markets — not to mention national security.   The 2011 FCC decision set off a firestorm of opposition that resulted in a flurry of congressional hearings lambasting LightSquared.  The most recent was last week.

The February 14 statement by FCC spokeswoman Tammy Sun  states that the FCC will indefinitely suspend its January 2011 decision and release a request for public comment.  That request was released on February 15; comments are due March 1, 2012.

The FCC action responds to a letter from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).  The FCC governs use of the radio frequency spectrum by the private sector, while NTIA governs its use by the goverment.   NTIA wrote to the FCC Tuesday saying that recent tests show there is “no practical way to mitigate the potential interference at this time.”

LightSquared insists that the problem is that manufacturers of GPS receivers are to blame for any interference.   It says that it designed its system in conformance with the FCC’s technical requirements, but the GPS receivers were built so that they listen for signals outside the band in which they are supposed to be operating.  The company asserts that the recent tests cited by the NTIA were flawed.  

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