Industry rivals spar while FCC strives to determine a viable solution
A battle of technology is under way that pits a known and highly valued resource, GPS, against an unknown but determined newcomer, LightSquared LLC.
Proponents of the Virginia-based LightSquared, a fourth-generation wireless broadband network, say its technology will revolutionize the U.S. wireless industry. Opponents contend the new system will disable or cripple a wide variety of GPS navigation and timing functions.
For agriculture, the concern is that the LightSquared network will severely hamper or even prevent many precision farming practices that farmers routinely use via GPS access, including planting, irrigating and harvesting.
"High-speed broadband services have great potential to bring opportunity to rural Americans, but should not jeopardize GPS," says Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. "Many of our farmer and rancher members rely on GPS for precision agriculture."
Neither LightSquared nor the GPS community seem open to compromise, based on testimony before various oversight committees in Washington, D.C., this past summer.
LightSquared’s goal is to put more than 40,000 high-power Internet broad-cast stations in operation across the U.S. If approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the stations would broadcast on a spectrum neighboring the low-powered GPS signal. The FCC is tasked with deciding whether or not the new technology can be implemented and under what, if any, constraints.
Communication problems. In the months leading up to this decision, the Defense and Transportation departments have sharply criticized the FCC for not giving them and other stakeholders more opportunities to provide input on the matter.
Testimony from the U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Coast Guard and industry representatives this past June contend there is insufficient data to demonstrate that LightSquared’s planned nationwide broadband signal will not interfere with GPS signals.
To counter LightSquared’s plans, the GPS industry has formed the Coalition to Save Our GPS. Members include CNH, Deere & Company, Hemisphere GPS, OmniSTAR, Reinke, Topcon, Trimble and the Agricultural Retailers Association.
Phil Straub, vice president of aviation engineering for Garmin International Inc., said during oversight committee testimony this past summer that the current plan by LightSquared is potentially disastrous as its signal is 4 billion times stronger than that belonging to GPS.
"It’s like running a lawn mower in a library," Straub says. "Please do everyone a service and put this dysfunctional service to an end."
Jeff Carlisle, executive vice president of regulatory affairs and public policy for LightSquared, is adamant that the system will be a positive venture for Americans nationwide.
He says LightSquared has worked with the FCC for nearly 10 years to develop the new network and is prepared to enter the marketplace at a lower bandwidth than the FCC originally approved in 2005, in order to not hamper GPS functions.
"The FCC decision in 2005 was not appealed or questioned," Carlisle says. "No one approached us to make a modification to our approved power levels [until the past six months]."
The deployment and operation of LightSquared’s network will represent more than $14 billion of private investment over the next eight years, Carlisle adds.
The FCC is currently reviewing the reports and recommendations provided by LightSquared and its opponents as well as public opinion. A final decision by the FCC is expected this fall.