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LightSquared Will Result in Unfair Government Competition with the Private Sector

November 14, 2011
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On its face, the LightSquared proposal and the issue of unfair government competition with the private sector would seem to have nothing in common.  As a for-profit corporation, LightSquared is raising private capital, hiring private sector employees, and paying taxes.  At this point, it is seeking a regulatory approval from the federal government (spectrum from the Federal Communications Commission), not tax dollars, grants or other financial assistance from the taxpayers.

But LightSquared has stubbed its toe in a way that particularly disadvantages and disenfranchises numerous private companies, and those in surveying and mapping in particular. Unfair government competition with private enterprise is rearing its ugly head again.  Here’s how.

Several Federal agencies, including departments of defense, agriculture, transportation, interior and commerce, have voiced concern that LightSquared’s interference with GPS will adversely affect agency operations.  LightSquared argues that the GPS industry, including the surveying and mapping profession, are interfering with LightSquared’s spectrum, not the other way around.

That claim notwithstanding, LightSquared has attempted to cushion its impact on existing users – in the government. While reports are the firm has spent more than spent $9 million to develop filters to ensure its signal did not go into the spectrum licensed to GPS, LightSquared says the GPS industry should pay for the filters and patches to their instruments, arguing that the GPS user community should have vacated the disputed spectrum years ago, and is therefore responsible for its own upgrades.

Now it is reported that LightSquared has committed an additional $50 million to retrofit or replace GPS devices in use by federal agencies.

This will result in an unfair advantage for the government over the private sector.  Federal agencies, USGS, NOAA, Corps of Engineers, just to name a few that have their own in-house surveying and mapping equipment, crews and service capabilities, would have a no-cost fix to their LightSquared interference problems, while private sector firms, including small business surveyors, photogrammetrists and other GPS users, will have to pay for their own upgrades and repairs.

Unfair government competition with the private sector has long been a major concern for small business.  Every time a White House Conference on Small Business has been convened, government performance of commercial activities (those that meet the “Yellow Pages Test” -- if a service is commercially available and can be found from private enterprise in the Yellow Pages, the government shouldn’t be doing it) as a top issue.  LightSquared’s proposal to fix the GPS interference problem for federal agencies while leaving private enterprise to fend for itself will only exacerbate the problem.

Whether an intended or unintended consequence, Congress and the FCC should insist that prior to any approval, LightSquared should be responsible for preventing interference with all GPS users, not just some and certainly not just those in government.
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