The threat stems from a recent highly unusual decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to grant a conditional waiver allowing the dramatic expansion of terrestrial use of the satellite spectrum immediately neighboring that of GPS, potentially causing severe interference to millions of GPS receivers. The conditional waiver was granted to a company called LightSquared. AEM in late February hosted a Washington, DC briefing of industry groups and member companies regarding the FCC interim decision and continues to provide leadership on the issue.
The "Coalition to Save our GPS" includes representatives from a broad range of industries, including agriculture, aviation, construction, transportation, engineering and surveying, as well as GPS-based equipment manufacturers and service providers. The coalition’s website is www.SaveOurGPS.org.
In a Friday, March 10, statement, the GPS coalition said: "GPS is essential to Americans every day – it’s in our cars, the airplanes in which we fly and the ambulances, police cars and fire trucks that help keep us safe. It’s also used in many industrial applications and even synchronizes our wireless, computer and utility networks. LightSquared's plans to build up to 40,000 ground stations transmitting radio signals one billion times more powerful than GPS signals as received on earth could mean 40,000 ‘dead spots’ – each miles in diameter – disrupting the vitally important services GPS provides."
The unusual waiver granted in January to LightSquared by the FCC allows it to use its satellite spectrum for high-powered ground-based broadband transmissions if the company can demonstrate that harmful interference could be avoided. The usual FCC process of conducting extensive testing followed by approvals was not followed in this instance. Instead, the process was approve first, then test.
Additional safeguards are needed, the GPS coalition says, and it recommends the following:
- The FCC must make clear, and the NTIA must ensure, that LightSquared’s license modification is contingent on the outcome of the mandated study. The study must be comprehensive, objective and based on correct assumptions about existing GPS uses rather than theoretical possibilities. The views of Lightsquared, as an interested party, are entitled to no special weight in this process.
- The FCC should make clear that LightSquared and its investors should not proceed to make any investment in operating facilities prior to a final FCC decision (or at least make it explicit that they do so at their own risk). While this is the FCC’s established policy, it failed to make this explicit in its order.
- Further, the FCC's, and NTIA's, finding that "harmful interference concerns have been resolved" must mean "resolved to the satisfaction of preexisting GPS providers and users."
- Resolution of interference has to be the obligation of LightSquared, not the extensive GPS user community of millions of citizens. LightSquared must bear the costs of preventing interference of any kind resulting from operations in LightSquared’s frequencies. GPS users or providers should not have to bear any of the consequences of LightSquared’s actions.
- This is a matter of critical national interest. There must be a reasonable opportunity for public comment of at least 45 days on the report produced by the working group.