WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Feb. 14 it intends to revoke LightSquared’s conditional authority to deploy a ground-based mobile broadband network that tests have shown will interfere with GPS applications, including aviation safety.

The statement was issued in response to a Feb. 14 conclusion by the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that “there is no practical way to mitigate potential interference” to GPS signals caused by LightSquared’s proposed network. Lawrence E. Strickling, assistant U.S. secretary of commerce for communications and information, relayed that finding in a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

The FCC in January 2011 granted LightSquared conditional approval to offer a terrestrial-only version of its North American L-band broadband service, which also would be carried by the company’s SkyTerra-1 satellite that was launched in November 2010. In doing so, the FCC waived a requirement that all LightSquared phones be able to connect with the space-based portion of the network pending the outcome of testing to resolve the GPS interference question.

In its statement, the FCC said it made clear from the beginning that it would not permit LightSquared to roll out the ground network consisting of some 40,000 transmitters — originally billed as an augmentation to the satellite — if the result was harmful interference to GPS signals. “NTIA, the federal agency that coordinates spectrum uses for the military and other federal government entities, has now concluded that there is no practical way to mitigate potential interference at this time,” the statement, attributed to FCC spokeswoman Tammy Sun, said. “Consequently, the Commission will not lift the prohibition on LightSquared. The International Bureau of the Commission is proposing to (1) vacate the Conditional Waiver Order, and (2) suspend indefinitely LightSquared’s Ancillary Terrestrial Component authority to an extent consistent with the NTIA letter.”

According to the FCC statement, the LightSquared episode illustrates the challenges associated with making radio spectrum available for mobile broadband services. “There are very substantial costs to our economy and to consumers of preventing the use of this and other spectrum for mobile broadband,” the statement said. “Congress, the FCC, other federal agencies, and private sector stakeholders must work together in a concerted effort to reduce regulatory barriers and free up spectrum for mobile broadband. Part of this effort should address receiver performance to help ensure the most efficient use of all spectrum to drive our economy and best serve American consumers.”

In a statement issued in response to the NTIA letter, LightSquared, which by some accounts has invested $3 billion in its proposed network, said it is not giving up. “LightSquared is confident that the parties will continue the on-going efforts to explore all engineering options and alternatives to find a solution to this difficult issue,” the statement said.

LightSquared said it disagreed with the NTIA’s recommendation, and that the testing on which it was based was “severely flawed.” LightSquared noted that the affected GPS receivers are designed to look into radio spectrum that was licensed to the company.

“The final regulatory decision rests now with the FCC, which is the proper authority to resolve this issue,” the LightSquared statement said. “The company fully expects the agency to recognize LightSquared’s legal rights to build its $14 billion, privately financed network.”



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Warren Ferster is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews and is responsible for all the news and editorial coverage in the weekly newspaper, the spacenews.com Web site and variety of specialty publications such as show dailies. He manages a staff of seven reporters...