Senator presses FCC about GPS retrofit costs associated with LightSquared's LTE plans

Senate Judiciary Committee ranking Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), has sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski pressing the chairman about who would pay for the retrofit of millions of military, government and commercial GPS receivers if the FCC gave LightSquared permission to operate its LTE network in L-band satellite spectrum.

"My concern regarding LightSquared's application to create a terrestrial 4G network is that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) appears not to have taken sufficient steps to safeguard the American taxpayer and appears to have let LightSquared off the hook regarding the multi-billion cost to retrofit GPS receivers to block out LightSquared's terrestrial network," Grassley wrote. " ... Despite the readily apparent concerns which were present throughout the waiver process, at no point has the FCC addressed who will pay to retrofit every single federal, state, and local government GPS receiver, which will require a filter as a result of interference caused by LightSquared's terrestrial network."

LightSquared has been under fire since its June report to the FCC showed that its proposed LTE network network operating in satellite spectrum posed an interference problem to existing GPS devices. LightSquared can't operate in the band until the FCC is satisfied that interference won't be a problem.

LightSquared in recent months has made a number of concessions, including agreeing to temporarily stay out of the upper part of the spectrum that is adjacent to the GPS bands.

Recently, the company sweetened its concessions with the GPS community, presenting the FCC with an amended version of its LTE network plan. The filing was made as LightSquared came under withering criticism at a congressional hearing over its planned wholesale network. In the filing, LightSquared proposed two significant modifications to its plan, which has already been modified from the company's original proposal. Under the latest version, LightSquared still plans to use the lower 10 MHz chunk of its L-Band spectrum, but will now limit the power of its base stations on the ground to -30dBm when it launches its network.

Last month LightSquared declared that it had come up with a simple, affordable solution to the high-precision GPS interference problems posed by its planned wholesale LTE network--and said it's willing to foot the bill to retrofit certain government GPS devices. The company signed a deal with Javad GNSS to develop a system that can be adapted to work with high-precision GPS devices, including those already in the agriculture, surveying, construction and defense industries.

Javad GNSS has completed the design, made prototypes and tested those prototypes. The vendor is expected to have 25 pre-production units released for public tests in October, followed by mass production. High-precision receivers for positioning applications are expected to go to market by November 2011 and precision timing devices by March 2012. Each receiver will cost between $50-$300, depending on device and specs, LightSquared said.

The company said the reason LightSquared focused on government devices is because it didn't want tax payers to take a hit. It won't pay for retrofitting of private GPS devices.

Nevertheless, Grassley remains concerned that the government will be stuck with the bill. He asked Genachowski and the FCC three specific questions, to which he asked for a written response by Oct. 13:

  • "Should the FCC find that LightSquared has fully satisfied all interference concerns, who will pay to retrofit all federal, state, and local government GPS receivers with filters?"
  • "Should the FCC find that LightSquared has fully satisfied all interference concerns, who will pay to retrofit all privately-owned GPS receivers with filters?"
  • "Has the FCC sought independent estimates from federal agencies and state and local governments on the cost of retrofitting their GPS devices? If not, why not?"

For more:
- see this Connected Planet article

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