The saga of LightSquared added a new chapter last night, as Bloomberg reported on the preliminary result of tests of the satellite Internet provider’s service in relation to GPS devices. The Obama administration has pushed LightSquared as a provider for its ambitious broadband expansion over the objections of the military, which warned that LightSquared’s operations would interfere with the satellite-based navigational system. The draft summary of the November testing shows that the military was right to be concerned:
Philip Falcone’s proposed LightSquared Inc. wireless service caused interference to 75 percent of global-positioning system receivers examined in a U.S. government test, according to a draft summary of results.
The results from testing conducted Oct. 31 to Nov. 4 show that “millions of fielded GPS units are not compatible” with the planned nationwide wholesale service, according to the draft seen by Bloomberg News.
“LightSquared signals caused harmful interference to majority of GPS receivers tested,” according to the draft prepared for a meeting next week of U.S. officials reviewing the LightSquared proposal. “No additional testing is required to confirm harmful interference exists.”
LightSquared, backed by $3 billion from Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, faces challenges from makers of global-positioning system devices who say the service will disrupt navigation by cars, boats, tractors and planes. U.S. regulators are withholding approval as they check on claims of interference.
If that was all there was to this story, then this would just be another commercial venture that struck out, with little interest outside the tech fields involved. However, the overwhelming failure of LightSquared’s test puts allegations from last summer in a new light. In September, four-star Air Force General William Shelton accused the White House of pressuring him in August to change his Congressional testimony to make his assessment of LightSquared more favorable. Another Congressional witness told Eli Lake that the White House had “offered guidance” on how to testify favorably towards LightSquared.
Why is this important? Philip Falcone is a big donor to the Democratic Party, and he has billions of dollars at stake in LightSquared’s approval. Also, Obama himself was an investor in LightSquared at one point, as were or are a number of his associates. The resounding failure in this test makes it look like the White House pressured witnesses to back off of exposing LightSquared’s product as exactly the kind of dangerous problem that critics had maintained all along — with the intent to mislead Congress into moving forward with LightSquared’s government contracts.
One amusing note: LightSquared announced two days ago that the same tests showed no problems at all. After Bloomberg reported on the draft report, the company expressed outrage over the “leak” of “preliminary results.” Yeah, we’re with you on the leak outrage, pal.
Congress needs to add this to its growing list of investigations into the Obama administration.