A Summertime Take on LightSquared


A pilot friend asked me the other day for an update on the LightSquared vs. GPS saga, and in a nutshell, my summary was, “It’s kind of a mess, but I wouldn’t worry about it.” I could be proven wrong — predicting the future is always a risky business — but I’ve seen lots of precedent for this kind of conflict, and what I’ve seen suggests that this is the kind of game that LightSquared can’t win.The problem for LightSquared is that there are too many constituencies who use GPS, who rely on GPS, who love GPS, and who won’t stand for it to be threatened. This includes not only business interests, but consumers and the government. And not just aviation users, but all kinds of terrestrial apps like navigation, survey, communications networks, and more. The only people on LightSquared’s side that I can see, other than LightSquared, are the big companies like Best Buy and some wireless services that are hoping to use their network. That’s important to those companies, but that’s about it. Consumers crave broadband access, no question, but they are not really interested or invested in where the bandwidth comes from, so there is not a lot of weight on that side of the equation.A similar conflict recently played out here in the Northeast, when a gas company breezed into town and tried to push a plan to develop a liquefied-natural-gas terminal in the middle of a picturesque bay. I never thought they would win, because everyone was aligned against them, from the environmentalists, to boaters, to fishermen, the business community and local governments. If any of those had joined the developers’ side, citing job growth or economic boon or whatever, things might have been dicier. Still, the developers dragged on the fight for years. They have a lot to gain if they win, and keeping up the fight is not that costly by comparison. But in my experience, when things are this lopsided, those proposals eventually lose out. After eight years or so of fruitless wrangling, the LNG folks packed it in.So, my expectation is that the LightSquared saga will play out in a similar way. The developers will keep up the fight, since they have nothing much to lose by trying, and holding them at bay will keep the staffs busy at the aviation-advocacy groups for quite a while yet. But would I worry about GPS getting messed with, in any substantial way? Not on a fine summer day, I wouldn’t. But you never know.

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