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
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.