LightSquared lobbyists pushing MN legislators to demand action from Klobuchar, Franken

posted at 2:25 pm on December 14, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Hot on the heels of catastrophically bad test results for LightSquared, their new strategy to get FCC approval for their commercial rollout has emerged — in St. Paul, Minnesota, of all places.  Last week, lobbyists started a full-court press on state legislators in an effort to pressure US Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken into pushing for the FCC approval that the 75% failure rate in NTIA testing should disqualify.  While the lobbying efforts of the Lehman Group are not new — Minnesota State News announced their efforts back in September — the lobbying has taken a more urgent tone of late.

The e-mail, as MnSN wrote back in September, leans heavily on LightSquared as a popular project among rural voters, as well as a long list of current supporters.  However, it makes a few curious claims as well in light of more recent developments, and it’s worth highlighting a couple of them.  (The complete e-mail is at the end of the post.)

LightSquared has a contract with Best Buy, which plans to roll out a national branded Best Buy cell phone product using LightSquared’s network.  This is an exciting new business opportunity for this important Minnesota Company.

An important note for consumers is that the very low wholesale rates that LightSquared will be charging its retail partners means retail cell phone rates for LightSquared’s partners are expected to drop by 33-50%!  That is very good news at a time when business and household budgets are stretched.

Best Buy is indeed a big Minnesota-based company, and a LightSquared deal makes sense — especially if those claims on retail cell phone rates are true.  They almost certainly are — thanks to the waiver LightSquared got from the FCC to proceed with its plans, based on using a part of the spectrum it already owns and which is most emphatically not authorized for cell phone service.  Other cell phone companies had to buy cell-phone service spectrum at auction from the FCC and paid billions of dollars to do so.  If the FCC makes the waiver permanent, LightSquared can undercut prices on existing cell-phone providers — which is what LightSquared and its parent Harbinger intended all along.  It’s also why Sen. Charles Grassley and others are looking at the political connections between Harbinger and the Obama administration and the curious actions of the FCC to keep this project on course for a rollout.

The lobbyist letter mentions the issues of LightSquared’s interference with GPS devices — by blaming the long-existing GPS equipment:

The GPS industry has raised concerns about LightSquared’s signals causing interference for GPS devices. The inteference is caused because GPS devices have been mismanufacturerd to receive signals outside their FCC-authorized spectrum.  This means that when LightSquared broadcasts signals within its FCC-authorized spectrum, GPS devices “squatting” in the LightSquared spectrum pick up LightSquared’s signals.

First, this is absurd.  GPS devices are receivers, not transmitters, and receivers do not “squat” on spectrum.  They are built to receive very weak signals from satellites in space, which means they have to have a great deal of sensitivity.  This is the very reason why LightSquared’s spectrum was not authorized for cell phone service in the first place.  Second, the GPS industry has sold millions of these receivers for more years than LightSquared has attempted to get itself cell-phone spectrum on the cheap from a politically-allied administration.  They are not “mismanufactured” just because LightSquared now wants to establish terrestrial networks that will swamp out the satellite signals these devices need to receive in order to operate.

The letter continues:

Despite the fact that the GPS community has done nothing to mitigate a problem that is caused by its devices operating in LightSquared’s spectrum, the good news is that a fix is coming thanks to a significant financial investment by LightSquared.  In addition, several GPS manufacturers have come forward and are working with LightSquared on a fix that will restrict GPS devices to receiving signals only within their FCC-authorized spectrum.

Once again, the FCC authorizes spectrum to broadcasters, not receivers, but even so, this claim of a “fix” prompts another question.  Who has to pay for the “fix,” and will it work with all existing GPS devices already in the field?  Minnesota legislators who ask this question are told that the “fix” costs only 50 cents a unit, and that it will only take a “minor programming tweak.”  According to my source on Capitol Hill, that’s not so; it will take the addition of an antenna and other modifications to the unit to successfully pinpoint terrestrial location with a less-sensitive receiver.

On the question of who pays for fixing all of the existing GPS units, which would apparently entail sticking an antenna on millions of the newer-generation smartphones that provide GPS tracking, the lobbyist response is that because the devices are “mismanufactured,” their makers should issue recalls and retrofit at their expense.  They claim that the government would make Detroit automakers whose gas tanks explode in collisions fix the problem themselves.  Of course, these GPS devices are not exploding, and they operate perfectly well under the spectrum assignments the FCC has had in place for all the years before LightSquared wanted a waiver for the use of its satellite-communication frequencies, so it’s unlikely that the NTSB or Consumer Product Safety Commission will order a recall.

What does that mean?  It means that an FCC approval of LightSquared will force millions of people to abandon their current devices and buy the less-reliable and less-convenient devices that would have to take their place.  Harbinger won’t be paying for those retrofits, and neither will GPS manufacturers who would stand to make more money by forcing people to change out the devices at their own expense.  And even if the devices are retrofitted, how convenient would a smartphone with a big antenna be?

But what about the massive NTIA testing failure?  They have an explanation for that too — that the NTIA tested their system at much higher power levels than what will take place in the rollout of the LightSquared service.  Anticipating this argument, the satellite-communications industry blog TMF Associates explains the NTIA’s approach on power:

As I mentioned on Friday, the test results from the draft NTIA report indicated that 75% of cellular and general navigation devices suffer from harmful interference. These are the 400 million “cell phones and auto systems” whichLightSquared claimed were “already compatible” with its network, based on the “new plan, which was announced in June”. Now LightSquared claims that the tests did not take into account “a critical element in LightSquared’s mitigation proposal to manage the power from its network that GPS devices will be able to receive”. However, this “power on the ground” proposal was first set out in a presentation to the FCC in early September, and was never part of LightSquared’s June proposal. That was only a day or two before the NTIA mandated this further round of tests, so it is hardly surprising that it was not considered as part of the recent testing.

It is important to note that this phase of testing related to operation solely in the lower 10MHz block of L-band spectrum at LightSquared’s revised operational power limit of 32dBW (exactly as proposed by LightSquared in June). I understand that the test criteria was a limit of 1dB increase in the signal to noise ratio (rather than the 6dB that LightSquared originally proposed but the NTIA refused to accept), with line of sight to the tower. LightSquared’s newer “power on the ground” limits proposed in September do reduce the output power below 32dBW (to as little as 21dBW, i.e. ~15 times less) on the shortest towers (because these will produce the highest interference level close to the tower). However, LightSquared also proposes to increase these power levels by 3dB (i.e. double) in Jan 2015 and another 3dB (double again) in Jan 2017, so that far more towers will be operating at the 32dBW output level tested by the NTIA. Even a tall tower operating at the full power level could have a vehicle passing nearby in line of sight to the main beam, e.g. if the tower is next to an elevated roadway.

All in all, it is certainly true to say that the government conclusions are based on conservative assessments of interference (modest impact on devices in line of sight to a tower operating at the maximum power level). However, this is understandable when general navigation devices are relied on for vehicle safety, including in light aircraft.

Don’t forget that the FCC required LightSquared to pass this NTIA test as a condition of commercial rollout.  The NTIA concluded that “No additional testing is required to confirm harmful interference exists,” which means the FCC has to withdraw the waiver. Hence, we now see LightSquared’s lobbyists scrambling here in Minnesota to generate the kind of political pressure that could convince the FCC to change its mind, and if that’s happening in Minnesota, I’m willing to bet it’s happening in other states as well.

Here’s the e-mail that state legislators are receiving:

I’m writing to give you an update on a technology issue and to ask for your help.

I’m working on a rural technology issue that promises to provide universal 4G wireless broadband Internet and cell coverage to all rural residents by using a satellite instead of cell towers to transmit signals.   LightSquared is a private company seeking approval from the FCC to turn on its nationwide cell phone and wireless broadband Internet system that is based upon a patented satellite technology.*This technology will allow 4G signals anywhere in the U.S., even in areas without cell phone towers.  This promises tremendous new economic development opportunities for rural communities as well as assist First Responders and law enforcement personnel.

LightSquared has contracts with about 20 national and regional cell carriers so far, including Sprint and other carriers that serve Minnesota.

LightSquared has a contract with Best Buy, which plans to roll out a national branded Best Buy cell phone product using LightSquared’s network.  This is an exciting new business opportunity for this important Minnesota Company.

An important note for consumers is that the very low wholesale rates that LightSquared will be charging its retail partners means retail cell phone rates for LightSquared’s partners are expected to drop by 33-50%!  That is very good news at a time when business and household budgets are stretched.

The FCC concluded its public comment period on LightSquared’s application in August and is now reviewing that proposal.  It is expected that a decision will be issued later this Fall.

Support for Expanded Wireless Broadband Internet and Cell Coverage Grows

There is continuing and growing support for providing reliable wireless broadband and cell coverage to rural Minnesota and lower cell rates to urban residents.  This support is bipartisan and reflects leaders from rural, suburban and urban Minnesota communities.  Individual leaders and organizations from across Minnesota voicing their support by sending letters to the FCC and leaders in Minnesota’s congressional delegation include:

State Legislators:

*Senator Doug Magnus, Chair, Senate Agriculture and Rural Economies Committee;

*Senator Julie Rosen, Chair, Senate Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee;

*Senator Geoff Michel, Chair, Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee;

*Senator Mike Parry, Chair, Senate State Government Innovation and Veterans Committee;

*Representative Rod Hamilton, Chair, House Agriculture and Rural Development Policy and Finance Committee;

*Representative Torrey Westrom, Chair, House Civil Law Committee;

*Representative Jim Abeler, Chair, House Health and Human Services Finance Committee;

*Representative Bob Gunther, Chair, House Jobs and Economic Development Finance Committee;

*Representative Dean Urdahl, Chair, House Legacy Funding Division;

*Senator Jeremy Miller;

*Senator David Brown;

*Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen;

*Senator Paul Gazelka;

*Representative Mary Franson;

*Representative Mike LeMieur;

*Represesentative Duane Quam; and

*Representative Joe Schomacker..

But this is not a partisan issue or a rural/metro issue.  DFL legislators also support expanded telecommunciations services in rural Minnesota and more affordable cell coverage in the Metro.  DFL legilsators contacting Washington on this issue include:

*Minority Leader Senator Tom Bakk;

*Assitant Minority Leader Senator Terri Bonoff;

*Senator LeRoy Stumpf;

*Senator Rod Skoe;

*Senator David Tomassoni;

*Senator Keith Langseth;

*Senator Tony Lourey;

*Senator Gary Kubly;

*Senator Dan Sparks;

*Senator Kathy Sheran;

*Senator Ron Latz;

*Senator Mary Jo McGuire;

*Senator Linda Higgins; and

*Senator Larry Pogemiller.

DFL State Representatives contacting Washington on this issue include:

*Minority Leader Representative Paul Thissen;

*Assistant Minority Leader Debra Hilstrom;

*Represenative Kent Eken;

*Representative Paul Marquart;

*Representative Tom Anzelc;

*Representative Tom Rukavina;

*Representative Carly Melin;

*Representative David Dill;

*Representative Tom Huntley;

*Representative John Ward;

*Representative Larry Hosch;

*Representative Andrew Falk;

*Representative Lyle Koenen;

*Representative Terry Morrow;

*Representative Patti Fritz;

*Representative Jeanne Poppe;

*Representative Steve Simon;

*Representative Sandra Peterson;

*Representative Jim Davnie;

*Representative Bobby Joe Champion;

*Representative Jeff Hayden;

*Representative Erin Murphy;

*Representative Rena Moran; and

*Representative Tim Mahoney.

County Commissioners and County Boards from Counties including:

·* Dodge;

·* Douglas;

·* Hennepin;

·* Grant;

·* Kanabec;

·* Koochiching;

·* McLeod;

·* Pope;

·* Renville; and.

·* Swift.

Organizations:

·* Economic Development Association of Minnesota;

·* Minnesota Association of Townships;

·* Minnesota Ambulance Association;

·* Minnesota Farmers Union;

·* Minnesota High Tech Association;

·* Minnesota Work Force Council Association; and

·* North Memorial Health Care (one of only three Level 1 Trauma centers in Minnesota)

GPS Interference Issue Being Resolved

The GPS industry has raised concerns about LightSquared’s signals causing interference for GPS devices. The inteference is caused because GPS devices have been mismanufacturerd to receive signals outside their FCC-authorized spectrum.  This means that when LightSquared broadcasts signals within its FCC-authorized spectrum, GPS devices “squatting” in the LightSquared spectrum pick up LightSquared’s signals.

Despite the fact that the GPS community has done nothing to mitigate a problem that is caused by its devices operating in LightSquared’s spectrum, the good news is that a fix is coming thanks to a significant financial investment by LightSquared.  In addition, several GPS manufacturers have come forward and are working with LightSquared on a fix that will restrict GPS devices to receiving signals only within their FCC-authorized spectrum.  Initial tests by three different companies have been positive and a conclusive solution is expected later this Fall.  One GPS manufacturer, JAVAD (http://www.amerisurv.com/content/view/9228/), is already marketing a LightSquared-compatible device.

Ag Groups Reverse Opposition to LightSquared

The response to this imminent GPS fix has been positive. A number of leading national ag groups, including the Farm Bureau, the Farmer’s Union, the Wheat Growers, the Sugar Alliance and the Potato Growers, have reversed their earlier opposition to LightSquared and are asking the Congress to push the FCC to move forward with a solution to this problem that protects GPS AND allows LightSquared to proceed.  A copy of their letter is attached.

How You Can Help

If you believe that rural Minnesota needs more tech jobs and consumers throughout Minnesota should have expanded cell phone and wireless broadband Internet options at lower prices, it would be helpful if you let Congressman Cravaack and Senators Klobuchar and Franken know and you urge them to contact the FCC.  A sample letter for your consideration is attached.

Please note that the “ask” in the letter is very simple and is based upon the postiion taken by the Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, Wheat Growers, Sugar Alliance and others – ask the FCC to reach a settlement that allows rural residents to enjoy the benefits of BOTH vital GPS services as well as expanded broadband wireless Internet and expanded call coverage.

This letter positions you in a “win-win” position:

·*You support farmers and the agricultural industry by making it clear that you oppose a solution that results in disruption to GPS signals vital to farmers.

·*At the same time, you are also an advocate for rural economic development and job creation.  You support the local Chambers of Commerce, economic development directors, county commissioners and others who seek enhanced opportunities for technology jobs in rural communities.  You recognize the technology deficits rural Minnesota faces in seeking to attract economic development.  You also support the First Responders and law enforcement personnel who need reliable and consistent cell phone coverage to communicate with hospitals, families, law enforcement personnel and others in times of crisis.

This “win-win” position is what former Senator Norm Coleman called for in an op-ed published this week in ROLL CALL, a Capitol Hill publication.  A copy of this piece is attached, fyi.

Thank you for your help on this.  Please let me know if you have any questions.  Also, can you please send me a copy of the final letters you send?


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