LightSquared urges probe of GPS advisory board member

Wholesale LTE provider LightSquared is urging a probe of a federal GPS advisory board member, arguing that he has a conflict of interest because he also serves on the board of Trimble, which is opposed to LightSquared's network deployment plans.

LightSquared filed a petition late Wednesday with NASA Inspector General Paul Martin over the board member, Bradford Parkinson, sometimes referred to as the "father of GPS" for his role in developing the technology for the military. Parkinson serves as the vice chairman of the National Space-Based Position, Navigation, and Timing Advisory Board, which advises the federal government on GPS issues, and also serves as a board member for Trimble, which is part of a coalition of companies that have argued LightSquared's terrestrial network would cause harmful interference to GPS receivers. In December, results of GPS testing conducted by the advisory board were leaked to the media and showed continued interference from LightSquared's network. 

In its petition, LightSquared said Parkinson may have violated federal conflict of interest rules, and argued that if LightSquared's network deployment is approved by regulators, Trimble could be hurt financially because the company would need "to address the problematic design and manufacturing process that has resulted in its high-precision receivers looking into LightSquared's spectrum."

Trimble is part of a group formed last March called the Coalition to Save Our GPS, which has argued that LightSquared's network will cause harmful interference and that its signal will overwhelm GPS receivers and precision-based GPS receivers in particular. LightSquared has repeatedly argued that GPS device makers are at fault because their receivers have been designed to look into LightSquared's L-band spectrum. Government testing conducted under the auspices of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is still ongoing to determine if all GPS interference concerns have been resolved.

Coalition spokesman Dale Leibach told Reuters that Parkinson's role as a GPS expert allowed him to serve at both the advisory board and Trimble. "It appears that LightSquared has now run out of solutions and has nothing left but baseless allegations about process," Leibach said.

Pressure is mounting on LightSquared to get approval from regulators at the NTIA and FCC. Last week Philip Falcone, the head of the hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners, which is the chief backer of LightSquared, met with FCC officials to press the company's case and argue for its plans to mitigate interference. Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) has given LightSquared an extension until Jan. 31 to get FCC approval for its network, a condition of their 15-year, $9 billion network-hosting deal. However, Sprint has quit installing LightSquared equipment into its Network Vision network upgrade due to the situation.

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said he is requesting information from GPS companies about their contacts with the White House and regulators. The requests for information are part of a deal Grassley struck to get the FCC to turn over similar info about LightSquared's dealings with the government. Grassley has been investigating the conditional waiver the FCC granted LightSquared in January 2011 to allow its wholesale customers to deploy terrestrial service.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this IDG News Service article
- see this Bloomberg article

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