Amid a flurry of dueling press releases, the stakeholders in the LightSquared/GPS controversy turned their fortunes over to the Federal Communications Commission in what has become one of the most controversial applications before the commission in recent memory. LightSquared wants to build a nationwide network of 40,000 broadband Internet transmitters using radio frequencies in a band adjacent to that used by an estimated 500 million GPS devices in the U.S. Tests have shown that the LightSquared signals, which detractors say are billions of times more powerful than GPS signals, interfere with GPS and can make devices go dark miles away from the towers. LightSquared says the interference can be resolved by initially by moving its signals to the lower end of its frequency band and farther away from GPS and in the long term by hardening new GPS devices against its signals. The GPS industry says LightSquared's plans defy the laws of physics and the only solution is to move the broadband signals far away from GPS. The stakes are high. LightSquared says its plan will generate $120 billion in economic benefit. The GPS industry says the interference will result in a catastrophic collapse of a system that is essential to the operation of countless devices, systems and programs in the U.S.
A technical working group of stakeholders from all sides of the issue submitted a 1,000-page report to the FCC last Thursday and it clearly showed varying levels of interference with a wide variety of devices and systems. LightSquared says that by moving its rollout program to the lower frequency, its signals only affect "high precision" GPS devices (which apparently includes WAAS-enabled aviation GPSs) and that's a small price to pay for the benefits of its service, which will bring wireless broadband to 95 percent of Americans. LightSquared also blames the GPS industry for not building devices that can withstand the electromagnetic onslaught from its towers and claims the filters necessary to shield the devices cost as little as five cents. The GPS industry says LightSquared's filter claims are theoretical and they don't believe the devices can be shielded effectively.