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FCC Says GPS Interference Will Be Addressed

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The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission says LightSquared will not be allowed to build a broadband Internet system that interferes with GPS. In a letter (PDF) to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, Julius Genachowski says the FCC "will not permit LightSquared to provide commercial service until it is clear potential GPS interference concerns have been resolved" and that "under no circumstances would I put at risk our nation's national defense or public safety." However, Genachowski also chafes at suggestions by Grassley that the tentative decision to allow LightSquared access to the L-band of radio frequencies next to those used by GPS system was done quickly and without due diligence. He said LightSquared's predecessors have had access to the L-band since 1995 and the conditional acceptance of LightSquared's plan to build 40,000 transmitters came at the end of a yearlong process to transfer the license for that slice of radio frequency spectrum from Skyterra to Harbinger, which became LightSquared. He says the GPS industry has been aware of the fine details of the application every step of the way and, at one point, the GPS Industry Council wrote a letter saying that interference problems had been resolved. Now that it's apparent they haven't been resolved, Genachowski says the Commission will "work thoughtfully and carefully through the various interference issues that have arisen."

The GPS industry reacted strongly to the FCC's conditional acceptance of LightSquared's plan, saying the transmitters will be so powerful that they will drown out the much weaker GPS signals. LightSquared is now testing its proposed system's effect on a variety of GPS-dependent devices, including flight navigation equipment, and will issue a final report on June 15. There will be further opportunity for public comment after that report is filed. Genachowski makes it clear he'd like to see LightSquared and GPS be able to coexist. He says the L-band is "underutilized" and proposals like LightSquared's "would result in billions of dollars of new private investment and the creation of tens of thousands of jobs."

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