Globalstar plan sparks flurry of meetings, calls to FCC

It's unclear when the FCC will make a decision on a proposal that would allow Globalstar to move forward with its plan to offer terrestrial low power service (TLPS), but a lot of folks this week are trying to influence the final vote.

At least two commissioners -- Republican Ajit Pai and Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel -- have voted against the draft order pending before the FCC. Chairman Tom Wheeler circulated the proposal, leaving commissioners Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, and Michael O'Rielly, a Republican, to cast their votes. As of Wednesday, they were not commenting.

Pai released a statement last week saying that after carefully reviewing the record, he voted against Chairman Wheeler's proposal "to give a particular company special rights to unlicensed spectrum in the 2.4 GHz band. Bestowing this type of preferential access would be a marked departure from our successful and innovative approach to unlicensed spectrum."

That sentiment is shared by other groups like the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, which has argued that letting the TLPS proposal get approved would set a dangerous precedent by allowing one company to have a different set of rules for operation in the ISM band than the "thousands of companies already following the existing rules" and expending considerable time, effort and money to comply with those rules.

Opponents also say Globalstar has not adequately addressed significant concerns regarding TLPS' impact on existing users in the 2.4 GHz band. Globalstar, for its part, continues to argue that the commission's proposed rules strike a reasonable balance and serve the public interest by adding 22 megahertz to the nation's broadband spectrum inventory while ensuring that neither licensed nor unlicensed services are disrupted. Globalstar CEO Jay Monroe and other executives met with Commissioner O'Rielly and his legal advisor, Erin McGrath, on June 6. Legal counsel Regina Keeney also spoke by phone with Chairman Wheeler's legal advisor Edward "Smitty" Smith on June 6 and 7, according to ex parte filings.

Others are particularly concerned that TLPS will interfere with hearing aids. Andy Bopp, executive director of the Hearing Industries Association (HIA), met with the legal advisors to Commissioner Clyburn on June 6 extoling the benefits of using Bluetooth Low Energy and similar technologies for hearing aids. HIA says that granting Globalstar conditional operational authority on the basis that other users would have to test against its deployment would not be prudent policy.

"HIA engineers require detailed technical specifications, and information on all possible deployment scenarios, to model the potential impact on Bluetooth LE (and similar low power technologies) hearing aids," the HIA wrote. "This would be the only way to make useful suggestions as to the service rules under which Globalstar could operate on Channel 14 with minimal impact to Bluetooth LE and other frequency hopping users of this de factor 'safe harbor.'"

In its June 3 filing, the Wi-Fi Alliance said Globalstar has had years to engage in the kind of testing necessary to demonstrate that TLPS would not negatively impact existing uses in the 2.4 GHz band. "Yet it has repeatedly refused to engage in any transparent, good-faith effort to rigorously determine the nature of any interference from TLPS to Wi-Fi and other unlicensed technologies in the 2.4 GHz band," the alliance said, urging Chairman Wheeler to withdraw the draft order on Globalstar's TLPS proposal.  

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Nintendo of America and Sony Interactive Entertainment America executives said in an ex parte filing that it was their understanding that a draft order is pending before the FCC that, as part of a year-long experiment, would allow Globalstar to deploy increasing numbers of TLPS transmitters and ultimately expand across the country. "It is unclear whether the proposal would provide those impacted by this technology meaningful opportunity to assess the potential threats to existing consumer experiences," they wrote.

The companies are concerned that if granted, the Globalstar request may imperil Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections of all kinds, from video games to hearing aids to basic internet connections. They point out that video games – the kind they sell to U.S. consumers – helped spur broadband adoption by an entire generation of Americans, and any interference that introduces jitter or latency can ruin the gaming experience.

For more:
- see this filing and this filing
- see this Bloomberg story

Related articles:
Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo demand safeguards in Globalstar TLPS deployment
FCC circulates order on Globalstar's TLPS proposal
Globalstar investors call for swift FCC TLPS approval