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Aircraft, Pilots Group Blasts FCC’s Handling of LightSquared, GPS Interference Issues

By | April 2, 2011

      [Satellite TODAY Insider 04-02-11] The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) blasted the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for allegedly showing favoritism towards communications network operator LightSquared in dealing with its potential interference issues with GPS signals.
         In a March 29 statement to the FCC, the AOPA accused the commission of “failing to balance a satellite network operator’s claim of public interest against the ‘massive problems’ that the expansion of its network could cause for the aviation industry and other GPS users.”
         AOPA demanded that the FCC reverse a waiver it granted to LightSquared in January, which repurposed a portion of satellite spectrum that neighbors the frequency range used by common GPS applications. “By granting the waiver, the FCC failed to give proper weight to the ‘substantial evidence’ in the record that [LightSquared’s] network expansion of 40,000 required ground stations could cause significant desensitization of GPS receivers and massive problems that issue would create for the aviation industry,” AOPA said in the statement.
          The debate stems from a report filed in January to FCC by Garmin Engineers Scott Burgett and Bronson Hokuf, which asserted that the stronger signals created by the LightSquared mobile network base stations and the SkyTerra-1 satellite would, “seriously limit GPS reception, causing widespread GPS jamming and depriving vast areas of the United States of GPS coverage.”
          The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) also expressed concern to the FCC about LightSquared’s proposed LTE network interfering with GPS satellites and other emergency communications. In reponse, LightSquared formed a working group with the U.S. Global Positioning System Industry Council (USGIC) to study potential interference problems the 4G LTE terrestrial-satellite network might pose on GPS systems.
          AOPA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Melissa Rudinger, however, was not satisfied with the company’s response and called the FCC’s imposed requirements that LightSquared work with users to study effects of its network on GPS “insufficient.”
          “That condition left LightSquared itself in a position to determine whether the relief it had received was technically sound. Such an investigation should have been headed by the FCC International Bureau or a neutral third party, not LightSquared,” Rudinger said in a statement.
          The U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Defense are now working with the FCC to outline a plan that would prevent LightSquared’s network from interfering with critical civil and military government operations.

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