FCC Officials Take Tough Questioning on LightSquared
Maintain process was fair and result was in public interest; GPS rep takes issue with testimony
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 9/21/2012 11:37:43 AM
Stearns opined that LightSquared had invested $4 billion on its proposed 4G wholesale mobile broadband network only to have its waiver suspended and likely revoked over GPS interference issues, and said that the 40 MHz of spectrum involved should not be lying fallow while the FCC was pushing broadcasters to give up spectrum for wireless, saying that was not "sound spectrum policy".
FCC witnesses Julius Knapp, head of the Office of Engineering and Technology, and Mindel De La Torre, chief of the International Bureau, were on the same page in wishing the LightSquared investment had paid off and that it could offer the wholesale service, but also pointed out that after the GPS interference issues was raised, they could not risk public safety given the concerns of government agencies over interference to navigation, military GPS applications and more.
The FCC has taken steps to allow more flexible use of satellite spectrum, and Knapp said the FCC was still open to solutions to the LightSquared interference issues, though he would not offer any when asked and said he could not guarantee there was a fix.
There were criticisms of the length of FCC comment periods, or that the government might be setting a precedent that invoking public safety would unnecessarily end spectrum debates going forward -- a point hammered on by Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.).
De La Torre confirmed that in a memo about LightSquared, she had said that the GPS industry had been driving in the left lane and now that it looked like there was going to be traffic there, the GPS industry was "yelling bloody murder."
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) was particularly tough, pointing to the length -- 10 days -- of the comment period on the FCC's proposed "aggressive" build-out conditions on LightSquared and saying he thought that the FCC's haste was the enemy of good decision-making. De La Torre pointed out that it had been a lengthy proceeding already and that the 10 days, which had included a three-day extension, was enough time for parties to make their points and filings.
In response to a question, both De La Torre and Knapp said they were unaware of any conversations between the FCC and White House over the issue, which was essentially the only political turn to the hearing. After an eight-month investigation by the subcommittee into the issue, that suggested there were no political smoking guns.
Defending the FCC process was Democrat Diana DeGette of Colorado, ranking member of the subcommittee, who said the FCC had been put in a no-win situation, but had conducted the process responsibly and taken steps to address the GPS concerns after they were raised late in the process.
DeGette said she would be concerned if the FCC had made politically motivated decisions. "But I don't think that anyone thinks that is the case." The FCC weighed the pros and cons and made a difficult decision.
In their testimony, Knapp and De La Torre made the point that the FCC did not hear from the GPS industry about GPS interference concerns until late in the process and that if it had heard about them earlier, would have taken steps earlier in the almost decade-long process.
Following the hearing, Jim Kirkland, VP and general counsel of Trimble, a founding member of the GPS industry's Coalition to Save Our GPS, called the FCC testimony "deeply misguided and wrong."
"The FCC repeatedly committed to these government users that it would proactively protect GPS, including explicit statements to that effect in 2003 and 2005, and government users and industry relied on these commitments," said Kirkland. "Now, the FCC staff apparently believes that it was only obligated to consider GPS interference issues if GPS manufacturers raised them -- which would be an astonishing abandonment of the FCC's public interest responsibilities."
Great to hear that our governement is trying to pursue sound spectrum policy. I was aghast when the GPS coalition was able to gain political support to destroy LightSquared. This company did not transmit in the GPS band and was in fact miles away from GPS signals from a spectrum perspective. But GPS companies just throw junk receivers in the marketplace to maximize profit. I hope these GPS guys are at least building better recievers now. Eventually we need to use this spectrum. Receiver standards are needed to make this a reality.
John - 9/24/2012 9:08:19 AM EDT
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