Lights out for LightSquared

posted at 9:50 am on February 15, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

National Journal calls it “a colossal fall from grace,” but it comes only as a political surprise that the FCC acted yesterday to kill off the LightSquared proposal.  After an extraordinary one-year grace period to resolve the interference issues of its network with existing GPS systems, the FCC reluctantly admitted that “no practical way” to fix the basic problem of high-powered terrestrial broadcasts on a spectrum slice intended for low-power satellite communications (via Instapundit):

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved to reject LightSquared’s planned wireless network on Tuesday after the president’s top adviser on telecom issues said there is “no practical way” to prevent the network from disrupting GPS devices.

Philip Falcone and his investment firm Harbinger Capital invested billions of dollars in LightSquared’s plan to build a nationwide high-speed cellphone network, which now appears dead. …

On Tuesday, Lawrence Strickling, the assistant secretary for communications and information at the Commerce Department, said government testing showed LightSquared’s network would cause widespread problems with GPS devices, including ones used by pilots to prevent their airplanes from crashing.

“We conclude at this time that there are no mitigation strategies that both solve the interference issues and provide LightSquared with an adequate commercial network deployment,” Strickling wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

The action by the FCC would not only end the waiver process, it would force LSQ off of the terrestrial towers it now uses on those frequencies, ending all of their operations:

As a result of Strickling’s recommendation, the FCC will propose revoking LightSquared’s conditional waiver and and indefinitely suspending its authority to operate cell towers.

LSQ was caught unawares, according to National Journal:

The quick reaction seemed to catch LightSquared off guard. Just an hour before the FCC announced its decision, a LightSquared spokesman blasted the NTIA conclusion and said the company “fully expects the [FCC] to recognize LightSquared’s legal rights to build its $14 billion, privately financed network.”

The decision marks a colossal fall from grace for the wireless startup, which has waged a bitter fight over the network for more than a year. LightSquared wants to build a nationwide wholesale wireless network based on satellites and ground transmitters.

The Washington Post notes that the LSQ venture started out as a poster child for the Obama administration’s desire for broadband expansion, and turned into a potential exhibit for their crony capitalism instead:

It was a model project — a privately funded business that would carry out Genachowski’s plans to create more competition to giants AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

But the satellite venture struggled with financing as regulatory scrutiny of the network grew. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) asked if the FCC was paying special favors to the company and asked for all correspondence between officials and the firm. Genachowski’s office refused, saying Grassley’s Judiciary Subcommittee doesn’t oversee the FCC.

Meanwhile, government aviation and military officials sounded alarms that LightSquared’s network would interfere with everything from landing gear to weather prediction systems. The FAA predicted multiple deaths could occur if the network was launched.

The only model this demonstrates is how Democratic donors got favorable treatment from the Obama administration.  The Post doesn’t mention that Obama was an early investor in a LightSquared predecessor, or how investors had access to the White House, nor how the White House tried to pressure witnesses to Congress to modify testimony favorably toward LightSquared.  None of the reports mention that the FCC could have easily bench-tested this a year ago and found out exactly what we know now, which would have saved LightSquared and taxpayers a lot of time and money.  Grassley’s investigation wants to get to the bottom of all these questions, and so far Genachowski has been stonewalling to prevent it.

Meanwhile, good riddance to LightSquared and its attempt to use political pressure to get a 4G cell network on the cheap at the expense of GPS consumers, commercial aviation, and national security.  It should never have taken this long to come to this conclusion.


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The GPS industry had the ability to present their case. They didn’t. Instead, they simply decided to build the receivers the way they wanted to build them.

blink on February 15, 2012 at 1:41 PM

And now everyone is happy, except for Falcone and his hedge fund investors who bought Lightsquared.

pedestrian on February 15, 2012 at 1:44 PM

Meanwhile, good riddance to LightSquared and its attempt to use political pressure to get a 4G cell network on the cheap at the expense of GPS consumers, commercial aviation, and national security. It should never have taken this long to come to this conclusion.

Agreed.

woodNfish on February 15, 2012 at 1:50 PM

Do you need a list of the industry groups???

blink on February 15, 2012 at 1:44 PM

Heck Yeah!! Because if all you got is reps from Nokia et al showing up, maybe no biggie. Garmin, and aerospace reps, another story.

WryTrvllr on February 15, 2012 at 1:53 PM

And except for people that favor fairness.

blink on February 15, 2012 at 1:48 PM

Or safe air travel…/s

WryTrvllr on February 15, 2012 at 1:56 PM

Well, I haven’t heard anyone contradict LightSquared’s claims that they thoroughly involved GPS industry groups since prior to 2004.

blink on February 15, 2012 at 1:56 PM

Wow. You have the tech knowledge of an engineer working for them, but this is the best you can do here? Kinda matters. doesn’t it?

WryTrvllr on February 15, 2012 at 1:58 PM

Well, I haven’t heard anyone contradict LightSquared’s claims that they thoroughly involved GPS industry groups since prior to 2004.

blink on February 15, 2012 at 1:56 PM

If by “thoroughly involved” you mean ignored their urgent complaints, then yes I agree with you. For example, just scan the previous HotAir headlines the follow Ed’s post.

Blick, if you are a Falcone sock puppet, then good luck. If you honestly are deluded about how radio engineers protect the spectrum, then you need to do some serious reading. The fact that the FCC was strong-armed into making a bad decision in 2004 does not mean the only fair thing to do is to make even worse decisions going forward.

pedestrian on February 15, 2012 at 2:00 PM

Blink, you are a liar. You are poisoning this thread with your blatent lies. The waver was not granted until 2009. This was nothing but a bunch of hucksters who wanted to make $20 billion worth of spectrum out of thin air and political corruption. LightSquared brings nothing new to the table.

There is no “GPS industry” as you put it. Aircraft Manufacturers, Airlines, All the cell phone segments and dozens of other business sectors all derive value from the GPS system. Who are you and why are you pushing so hard for all these businesses and people to be harmed so that these crony capitalists can enrich themselves?

LakeLevel on February 15, 2012 at 2:07 PM

Not so fast. I’m pretty sure the Obamassiah will pass an executive order, forbidding LSQ signals from interfering with GPS signals. Never underestimate the awesomeness of the Obamassiah. Especially when LSQ sends some campaign bucks Barry’s way.

GarandFan on February 15, 2012 at 2:16 PM

Or safe air travel…/s

WryTrvllr on February 15, 2012 at 1:56 PM
Lame. You did that backwards.

It’s obvious that you don’t understand this situation very well.

blink on February 15, 2012 at 2:04 PM

Nor the FCC.

WryTrvllr on February 15, 2012 at 2:18 PM

Electromagnetic communication systems are one of my biggest interests. I would LOVE to debate the issue if you are interested.

blink on February 15, 2012 at 2:14 PM

I have not followed this until recently. But I can see no justification looking back at why a satellite communication company would have had any reasonable justification for expecting its frequency allocation could be used for a ground based data network. If you have other information, I would be pleased to look at it.

Instead what we see is a hedge fund buying a company that had satellite frequencies and trying to bribe their way around carefully designed engineering rules.

pedestrian on February 15, 2012 at 2:21 PM

And since when is my overly sensitive receiver an incidental radiator? You don’t like the whole system now?

WryTrvllr on February 15, 2012 at 2:21 PM

The GPS industry had the ability to present their case. They didn’t. Instead, they simply decided to build the receivers the way they wanted to build them.

blink on February 15, 2012 at 1:41 PM

Blinky, are you still beating this dead horse??? Give up on your LightSquared stock: they tried to cheat the FCC rules and pull a fast one on spectrum usage for a financial gain at the expense of the GPS industry and our military…and they lost. They deserve to die.

As for your silly argument:

Is it OK to put in a hog farm on the property next to your residence?? Note that if you object, they will argue (just like you do) that your nose is too sensitive.

QED.

Give it up.

landlines on February 15, 2012 at 2:28 PM

How many $Billions of tax-payer dollars were wasted on this crony capitalist adventure in corruption to the MAX???

Colatteral Damage on February 15, 2012 at 3:14 PM

Blink,
I’m not an engineer (actually an attorney by trade)so I don’t have the technical expertise in this matter. But do you deny that Lightsquared tried to bribe gov’t officials to get favorable treatment? Right there it tells me they were skating on thin ice.

Ta111 on February 15, 2012 at 3:15 PM

http://www.nbaa.org/ops/cns/gps/interference/201111215-lightsquared-interference-confirmed.php

Blink.

Your knowledge of this subject is impressive. But this article doesn’t make it sound like my cell phone carrier was the only concerned party.

WryTrvllr on February 15, 2012 at 3:47 PM

That 3rd paragraph is a killer. Literally.

WryTrvllr on February 15, 2012 at 4:02 PM

I’ve been following this story for a while over at my little slice of Intarweb Heaven, and this is the best news I’ve heard in months. To say that this debacle should’ve never gotten this far for this long is an understatement.

There were too many issues brought on by an initially poor design, although the concept itself isn’t a bad one. The mistake on LightSquared’s part was encroaching upon the the GPS bandwidth spectrum, which has a “buffer area” around it, so to speak, to prevent the type of electronic interference that LS stupidly insisted upon. The potential for many needless disasters and deaths didn’t seem to bother LS at all.

I intend to hoist a Guinness in praise of something finally done right in Washington for the first time in a long time. And the poke in Obama’s eye. But, mostly the poke in Obama’s eye. Cheers!

BackwardsBoy on February 15, 2012 at 4:04 PM

pedestrian, LightSquared predecessor entity was allocated the spectrum for terrestrial broadcast in 2002. They began the application process in 2001.

blink on February 15, 2012 at 12:55 PM

I’m pretty sure we’ve already been over this multiple times.

Lightsquared inherited a portion of the spectrum designated for MSS/ATC. The licensing for this service required a dual mode handset to prevent companies granted license for this spectrum from “splitting” the spectrum and selling satellite services separate from terrestrial services. It never caught on because no one wanted the service and there were problems in developing a dual use handset that could be marketed to people who wanted small, lightweight, smartphones.

The Obama administration had made a big push for rural broadband and had handed out loans to companies that couldn’t offer wireless services without purchasing extremely expensive spectrum and building out networks for rural areas. One of those companies, Open Range, had already received millions in loans and was going to fail unless they could partner with a company offering cheap spectrum. Enter LightSquared. 4 months after the FCC had stripped Open Range’s partner Globalstar of their ATC authority on the basis that their dual use handset didn’t meet the FCC’s requirements, the FCC issued a conditional waiver to Light Squared dropping the integrated service rule entirely as long as they could show the service didn’t interfere with GPS. The entire process was designed to favor LightSquared over competitors in the MSS market and allow the administration to trumpet their rural broadband initiative as being a success.

LightSquared predecessor was not granted permission to use the MSS spectrum for terrestrial broadcast in 2002. They were granted a change from MSS to ATC/MSS in 2005. That change was not to facilitate a terrestrial network, it was to allow ancillary terrestrial boosting of satellite signals in areas of poor reception. That spectrum was never designated for terrestrial networks because the power levels are a billion times higher than satellite signals received at ground. It’s simply untrue to state GPS knew there would be 40,000 towers blasting out signals a billion + times stronger in the adjacent band. I imagine no one considered the FCC would even suggest anything that incredibly stupid.

Wendya on February 15, 2012 at 4:21 PM

Ok blink,
I’ve had enough of this. I am an engineer with 40 years in the industry.
I have seen plenty of FCC shenanigans in my career. I’m thinking of the 2 GHz fiasco of 20 years ago.
There was a reason that spectrum was so cheap. There is no way that much power could be radiated on that band adjacent to other terrestrial receivers and not cause interference.
Spectrum is spaced the way it is to prevent this. Receivers are engineered to be cost-effective and efficient. Not vaults.
LSD was trying to get a jump on its competition by using a much cheaper band. They failed.
It wasn’t a fairness issue. Just plain old engineering and physics.
Somehow,LSD thought they could get around the regulations.
That is something to wonder about.
And no, this is not just an Obama thing. Bush had plenty of cronyism in his administration as well.
The difference is, we heard about it 24 hours a day on every channel and venue.
LSD? Crickets.

Capt Blasto on February 15, 2012 at 4:38 PM

Blink, everything that I’ve read suggests you are wrong and that is why the GPS industry was caught off guard. The change from being an ancillary system to a full blow terrestrial system came with the 2010 waiver and not in 2004, and therein lies the problem.

See the following:

Letter from Jeffrey J. Carlisle, Executive Vice President, Regulatory Affairs & Public Policy,
LightSquared, to Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary, FCC, SAT-MOD-20101118-00239, at 2 (Nov. 18, 2010)
(the “November 18, 2010 Letter”).

LightSquared Subsidiary, LLC; Request for Modification of its Authority for an Ancillary Terrestrial Component;IBFS File No. SAT-MOD-20101118-00239

ChoppedLiver on February 15, 2012 at 5:09 PM

According to a report generated by the US Senate, they were allocated the spectrum for terrestrial broadcast in 2004.

And that allocation carried restrictions, namely that it could not interfere with GPS. The ATC portion was designed to boost a weak signal in urban canyons.

That is still a fixed, terrestrial broadcast transmitter.

That would be few and far between and under FCC regulations, would be required to coexist with existing services.

Yes, it was – in 2004.

See above.

1 tower would cause the same interference locally so the number of towers isn’t even a germane issue.

ATC transmitters would be limited in numbers, limited in power and designed to augment a very weak signal in urban canyons. The ATC provision wasn’t designed to be a stand alone terrestrial cell phone network.

Look, I agree that it’s probably not something that I would have approved in 2004, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t receive an honest technical review by the Bush FCC.

blink on February 15, 2012 at 4:48 PM

The Bush adminstration didn’t approve a terrestrial only network. The ATC component was designed to facilitate satellite reception in areas where satellite signals were blocked by natural or man made features under specific circumstances… namely that they could not interfere with existing services in adjacent bands.

Wendya on February 15, 2012 at 5:42 PM

A company gets permission to build a factory to build 2,000 widgets per day in an area in 2004. Then, residential developments spring up all around the factory. Then, the factory requests permission to modify their permission to allow them to build 2,500 widgets per day.

Lightsquared reports revenue of $34 million and is being used as a mule for a multi-billion dollar investment that depends on converting highly restricted satellite spectrum into prime terrestrial spectrum that other companies have had to pay billions for so that they don’t ruin tens, if not hundreds, of millions of GPS receivers.

pedestrian on February 15, 2012 at 5:59 PM

Again, this is like a small, single-drug biotech company that receives quite a bit of investment in order to develop an orphan drug.

blink on February 15, 2012 at 6:05 PM

Right, cellular data is an orphan drug. What color is the sky on your planet?

Except that their 2004 allocation meant that the spectrum wasn’t “highly restricted” to them.

Looks pretty restricted to me:

In considering LightSquared’s request, and in granting this waiver, we considered several
factors, including LightSquared’s provision of substantial satellite service in the L-Band, its ongoing
efforts to coordinate with other L-Band operators and make substantial investments to rationalize
operations in the L-Band to enable use of this spectrum for both MSS and ATC broadband services, the
steps it has taken to promote an MSS/ATC marketplace that includes dual-mode satellite/terrestrial
devices, and its deployment of a 4G satellite/terrestrial network in the L-Band pursuant to unique and
substantial terrestrial buildout requirement

http://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2011/db0126/DA-11-133A1.pdf

From

http://www.lightsquared.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/LightSquared-and-GPS-The-Facts-09-07-11.pdf

pedestrian on February 15, 2012 at 6:12 PM

Shoot, I double checked those links to late. I clicked on a link from the Lightsquared discussion of their 2004 waiver to a 2011 document.

pedestrian on February 15, 2012 at 6:16 PM

Let’s discuss our technical education. You previously made disparaging remarks about mine, but then you disappeared when I asked if you wanted to compare.

blink on February 15, 2012 at 2:36 PM

In all of your posts, you have yet to make a sensible technical argument: you seem to believe that nature tolerates sharp edges, which is contrary to field and wave theory. In addition, you show a remarkable lack of understanding of the governing law. I didn’t want to embarrass you…just get you pointed down the path to truth…but if you pursue that line, you’re going to lose: my communications experience spans 5 decades.

I suggest you find another windmill to charge.

landlines on February 15, 2012 at 7:38 PM

Well, looks like Zerobama likes cell phone operators money more than hedgefundies, good to know.

anikol on February 15, 2012 at 8:43 PM

The Post doesn’t mention that Obama was an early investor in a LightSquared predecessor, or how investors had access to the White House, nor how the White House tried to pressure witnesses to Congress to modify testimony favorably toward LightSquared. None of the reports mention that the FCC could have easily bench-tested this a year ago and found out exactly what we know now, which would have saved LightSquared and taxpayers a lot of time and money.

Yet another one of those “if it had been a Republican in the White House when this happened” moments.

How do we convince others how big an arm of the DNC the mainstream media has become? It’s not even subtle anymore. The only difference between Pravda, Izvestia, and the US MSM is the fact that it is privately held MSM companies that are spouting the DNC propaganda.

AZfederalist on February 15, 2012 at 9:22 PM

Blink, I gotta ask. Are you on L2′s payroll or are you an investor?

By the way, it’s untrue that the 2004 allocation was only for facilitating satellite reception in certain areas. The 2004 allocation was specifically for use in their rural high-speed data mobile phone network.

blink on February 15, 2012 at 6:00 PM

FCC 05-30:

33. We clarify that “integrated service” as used in this proceeding and required by 47 C.F.R. §25.149(b)(4) forbids MSS/ATC operators from offering ATC-only subscriptions.
“ We reiterate our intention not to allow ATC to become a stand-alone system. The purpose of ATC is to enhance MSS coverage, enabling MSS operators to extend service into areas that they were previously unable to serve, such as the interiors of buildings and high-traffic density urban areas. We will not permit MSS/ATC operators to offer ATC-only subscriptions, because ATC systems would then be terrestrial mobile systems separate from their MSS systems. We therefore clarify that “integrated service” as used in this proceeding and required by 47 C.F.R. § 25.l47(b)(4) forbids MSS/ATC operators from offering ATC-only subscriptions

http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-05-30A1.pdf

Wendya on February 16, 2012 at 12:20 AM

Within all the kerfluffle, I hope we’re not the year 1900 and a federal agency just shot down the automobile because it makes horses skittish.

shuzilla on February 16, 2012 at 9:58 AM

Hooray!!! At last a government agency under Obama comes to its senses.

Bitter Clinger on February 16, 2012 at 1:17 PM

Nope. I became interested in this story when I was attacked for questioning a few of Ed’s claims. He turned out to be wrong and a dozen people claimed that I didn’t know what I was talking about. This was funny since I’m very familiar with the engineering of such systems.

I guess you feel you were attacked because you keep parroting the same misinformation we’re seeing from L2. Seriously, an amateur radio operator has the knowledge required to understand the problems inherent in the FCC’s ill intentioned actions.

Ha ha. There are buildings everywhere – even in rural areas. Anyone building such a network would need transmission towers everywhere there are buildings.

Now you’re just being deliberately obtuse. I live in a rural area. And yes, we have buildings!!! They are not of sufficient density, tall enough or covering a large enough area (city) to block out satellite signals. The only type of canyon you’re going to encounter in a rural environment is a natural canyon.

Also, are you claiming that GPS systems wouldn’t be susceptible to interference if LightSquared were to build fewer transmission towers?? Because that doesn’t make any sense.

What other arguments to you have?

blink on February 16, 2012 at 10:46 AM

The areas where they would be allowed to place transmitters are already problematic for GPS. (urban canyons… you know, cities with skyscrapers?) Seriously, for someone who claims to know so much, you seem to understand little.

Wendya on February 17, 2012 at 2:17 AM

FCC now needs to designate that spectrum to GPS since the manufacturers have essentially usurped it.

I just don’t like the fact that this story isn’t being told completely accurately.

blink on February 16, 2012 at 10:50 AM

No, they don’t need to designate that spectrum to GPS. They just need to keep it ATC/MSS instead of trying to build out a ground based LTE network. GPS can coexist with another satellite service.

Wendya on February 17, 2012 at 2:21 AM

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