The LightSquared/GPS Controversy
The LightSquared/GPS Controversy
The LightSquared/GPS Controversy

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    This is a major controversy brewing at FCC over its 1/26/11 Order and Authorization to LightSquared authorizing them to offer terrestrial service, in addition to mobile satellite service, in a band just below the band used by privately owned GPS systems.  This struggle has all the things that make spectrum policy interesting – I will leave out the boring technical details here as they are in my own blog:

    • An aggrieved incumbent claiming the new entrant will cause massive interference.

    • NTIA siding with the incumbent and using (misusing?) its ex parte loophole to funnel information to FCC from the incumbent off the public record while the Secretary of Commerce continues to advocate transparency in other countries.  (Transparency has never been a big thing at NTIA.)

    • FCC telling the two parties to go away for 6 months and try to cut a deal among themselves – sort of a negotiated rulemaking without the public safeguards of the Negotiated Rulemaking Act.

    • The incumbent using the time honored trick of demonstrating in an “experiment” that a poorly designed system by the new entrant would cause interference and then extrapolating to the conclusion that any system by the new entrant would cause interference.

    • The incumbent hiring a PR firm with an alarmist website claiming the new system could “jeopardize America’s safety” and urging the public to repeat these claims to FCC – obviously thousand of poorly informed comments help policy making.

    • The incumbent demanding that any solution must be to its satisfaction and impose no burden on it – independent of whether the new service has any public benefit. (I am reminded of a comment often heard at IRAC meetings where an IRAC member disparages an FCC regulatee seeking spectrum access saying “they want to making money using spectrum!”  Apparently in this part of the Commerce Department “making money” is unethical.)

    In the NorthPoint/MVDDS controversy, similar in many ways although all the details differ, Congress ordered FCC to go to a third party for a technical analysis and recommendations. The resulting MITRE Corp. study became the basis of FCC policy in that area.  But FCC does not have the funding to do so because it never budgets for such outside technical support.  I note that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission routinely goes to the national laboratories, e.g. Los Alamos, for analogous novel technical issues, but FCC never thinks it will have hard technical policy questions that need independent analysis.

    So stayed tuned to watch this “food fight” develop.  Oddly, it is not taking place on ECFS, but for procedural reasons on the International Bureau’s more obscure International Bureau Electronic Filing System (MyIBFS). Here is a direct link.  I fear that MyIBFS will collapse under the load and it already is getting hard to find documents in this proceeding.

    I have always said that spectrum policy is too important to be left to lawyers.  Veterans of past battles at FCC know that this type of polarization is common when a new entrant has a new technology – think NorthPoint/MVDDS, UWB, PCS H block, and AWS-3/M2Z.  the hard work is both sorting out the conflicting claims and searching for innovative policies that protect the legitimate interests of the incumbent while allowing new access to spectrum if at all possible. 

    The GPS community has chosen to use the word “jam” to describe what LightSquared is seeking to do.  This rightfulling inflames passions among GPS users, but  a joint USGIC/LightSquared filing uses the less inflammatory and technically correct phrase: “potential for overload interference/desensitization to GPS receivers, systems, and networks”.

    Hopefully we can keeps passions under control while the techies search for a system design that meets the “public interest”.  Let’s hope FCC learns from this proceeding and improves its approaches for handling future complex spectrum controversies.