LightSquared flunks again

posted at 8:40 am on December 15, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

At this point, some people at the FCC and in the White House should start feeling a little … nervous. Yesterday afternoon, the Departments of Defense and Transportation released a joint statement stating that LightSquared is about as bad on navigational equipment as everyone knew it would be:

Today, a government technical group reviewed the findings from last month’s testing of LightSquared’s proposal to provide new broadband service.  The final test report will be sent to the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA), which advises the President on telecommunications policy, and represents federal agencies to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Preliminary analysis of the test findings found no significant interference with cellular phones. However, the testing did show that LightSquared signals caused harmful interference to the majority of other tested general purpose GPS receivers.  Separate analysis by the Federal Aviation Administration also found interference with a flight safety system designed to warn pilots of approaching terrain.

The findings were presented to the technical steering group which represents the seven federal agencies that make up the Space-Based Positioning Navigation and Timing Executive Committee.  Over the next several weeks, the final analysis of the findings will be completed and a final report will be transmitted from NTIA to the FCC.

One of these is same test whose results leaked last week, showing that LightSquared substantially interfered with 75% of the general-purpose GPS receivers tested; this is the review that LightSquared and its lobbyists apparently thought would significantly change the conclusion of the test.  Oops!   Now the FAA adds even more pressure by concluding that LightSquared interferes with an aviation system that keeps pilots from running into mountains.  Think anyone at the FCC is going to tell airlines not to worry, but just refrain from flying in the dark and in the clouds?  Yeah, me neither.

It’s no great shock that LightSquared doesn’t interfere with other cell phones, since they’re using a part of the spectrum that’s not anywhere close to the frequencies used by other cell phones.  Also, cell phones use signals that are strong enough that the phones don’t have to have extraordinary sensitivity to detect them.  That’s not true of GPS devices, however, which have to have heightened sensitivity to detect and process signals from satellites in orbit, and which don’t transmit signals themselves.  That’s the reason why parking cell-phone traffic and its strong terrestrial-based transmitters next to the GPS band is such an obviously bad idea.

The question isn’t whether the FCC will allow LightSquared to proceed with its commercial roll-out now.  With the DoD and the DoT making a public announcement like this, all of the letters from all of the state legislators in the nation isn’t going to put enough pressure on the FCC to let planes fly into mountains and force millions of people to replace their GPS devices.  No, folks at the FCC and the White House are going to start preparing for the Congressional investigation into their decision to allow LightSquared to pursue this in the first place, along with all of the connections between LightSquared, its parent Harbinger, and the Obama administration — an investigation that Sen. Charles Grassley has been pursuing all along.

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Bush did it !

brads01 on December 15, 2011 at 1:26 PM

And pi are round.

Ed Morrissey on December 15, 2011 at 9:03 AM

Only if you have 2 of them….

runawayyyy on December 15, 2011 at 1:34 PM

What did you just call me?

rwenger43 on December 15, 2011 at 11:58 AM

Whoops! I know a guy named Rich Wenger, and when I was typing the opening to my response I *meant* to type ‘rwenger’, but all that came out was ‘Rich’. Hope you can forgive me. =)

My brain/mouthfingers filter wasn’t turned on. I’ll try to not let it happen again!

– Moo

Moo the Dog on December 15, 2011 at 1:39 PM

The communications spectrum controlled by the Dept of Defense has long been an attractive target for industry. DoD uses the frequencies for communications, targeting, and navigation. It is not something to be given up lightly . . . or for money to political donors.

joecollins on December 15, 2011 at 1:48 PM

And pi are round.

Ed Morrissey on December 15, 2011 at 9:03 AM

And physics is a harsh mistress.

Some don’t realize that they can’t bribe or corrupt it to just work.

Difficultas_Est_Imperium on December 15, 2011 at 1:50 PM

blink on December 15, 2011 at 1:17 PM

The FCC only licensed the spectrum in question for very limited cell phone network that supplemented a satellite network, NOT for a full-scale network such as they are proposing now, hence the need to apply for approval for the new usage. The FCC did this decades ago because of the closeness to the GPS band.

If Lightsquared didn’t think they were going to have a problem “because they were making sure not to bleed energy over into frequencies that were used by GPS systems. LightSquared probably didn’t know that new GPS receivers don’t filter outside signals sufficiently enough. ” then they are run by a bunch of idiots because that is why this band was approved for limited use before.

Impacts of the LightSquared Network on Federal Science Activities
report, you will see that everyone from Lightsquared on up to the FCC knew this to be true from the beginning.

Had the FCC followed regular procedure and opened this spectrum up for auction as per usual with spectrums used by full mobile networks instead of handing it over for free to Lightsquared’s predecessor company, this whole thing may have been avoided. So why wasn’t it? Graft, corruption, incompetence? Who knows anything is possible. Everything, that is, except that no one knew this could be a problem.

Lily on December 15, 2011 at 2:16 PM

If we could only get the light shined on this administration squared!

chickasaw42 on December 15, 2011 at 4:47 PM

According to The Obama Timeline, Venture capitalist Philip Falcone, who invested $3 billion in LightSquared and who made a fortune shorting subprime mortgage debt, has made significant contributions to the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee. LightSquared paid $720,000 to lobbyists in 2011 alone. FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, who was fast-tracking LightSquared, was a classmate and friend of Obama at Harvard law School. Genachowski refused to testify before the House Armed Services Committee about his agency’s “rule bending” for LightSquared.

Obama’s former personnel chief, Donald Gips, has $500,000 invested in LightSquared. Gips also raised about $500,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign, and was rewarded by being named U.S. ambassador to South Africa. Obama himself invested $50,000 in LightSquared, formerly known as SkyTerra Communications, in 2005, and the company’s CEO has been a guest at the White House on several occasions.

Colony14 on December 15, 2011 at 5:27 PM

LightSquared doubling down on failure guarantees that Obumbles will double down on their bailout…err, loan.

Moose Drool on December 15, 2011 at 5:28 PM

Can’t The Won just bail them out?

Cindy Munford on December 15, 2011 at 8:57 AM

Perhaps they’re too big to fail.

It’d be our duty.

Solaratov on December 15, 2011 at 10:30 PM

blink, that spectrum was never meant for earth-based transmitters. It’s a range for satellite based transmitters, which is the only thing it was ever approved for. LightSquared got a waiver to use it if they could prove that they wouldn’t degrade GPS.

They failed. End of story. They never should have got the waiver, but that’s a different matter.

flashoverride on December 15, 2011 at 11:49 PM

And yet they are still heavily advertizing on DC talk and news stations. This may become one of those SNAFUs with so much money and connections it cannot fail except in a graceful and expensive manner. It should become another bad dog bone for Issa.

ironked on December 16, 2011 at 8:56 AM