LightSquared asks FCC to affirm its spectrum rights

The carrier wants confirmation that it can use its licensed frequencies regardless of GPS interference

LightSquared has asked the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to affirm its right to use its radio spectrum, possibly setting the stage for a legal battle over interference between its planned mobile data network and GPS receivers.

The would-be hybrid mobile operator, which wants to build a national LTE (Long-Term Evolution) network using frequencies next to those devoted to GPS (Global Positioning System), filed a petition for declaratory ruling to the FCC on Tuesday.

LightSquared wants the FCC to affirm that it can use the spectrum and that makers of commercial GPS devices don't have a right to protection from interference. The company said it is not at fault for the interference because tests have shown the problem is caused by GPS receivers looking into its licensed spectrum. GPS receivers are not licensed and don't operate under any service rules, so they aren't entitled to interference protection, LightSquared said in the petition.

The company has said previously that it has a right to use its spectrum and has suggested it would take legal action if not allowed to build its planned network of 40,000 LTE base stations. But it has not been clear what legal recourse LightSquared may have. Official tests showed significant interference yet again in a second round of tests last month, making LightSquared's prospects look bleaker.

In January, the FCC granted LightSquared a waiver to one of its rules, allowing the carrier to sell satellite and LTE services separately as long as interference issues were resolved. But LightSquared has said it has a right to use the spectrum that goes back years earlier.

"LightSquared has had FCC authorization to build its network for over eight years and that authorization was endorsed by the GPS industry," said Jeff Carlisle, LightSquared's executive vice president for regulatory affairs and public policy, in a press release on Tuesday.

LightSquared CEO Sanjiv Ahuja pointed to the FCC's responsibility in a statement in the same release. "This petition goes to the very heart of the FCC's mission, which is to ensure that the nation's airwaves are governed by regulatory certainty," Ahuja said.

The Coalition to Save Our GPS, an industry group that has been fighting LightSquared's plan for months, slammed the company's petition and said its rights are limited.

"This latest filing simply recycles the litany of inaccurate and self-serving claims that LightSquared has made in its ongoing effort to deny its obligation to avoid harmful interference to millions of government and private GPS users," the group said in a statement attributed to Jim Kirkland, vice president and general counsel of Trimble, a founding member of the coalition.

LightSquared and the companies that preceded it, before LightSquared parent Harbinger Capital Partners bought satellite carrier SkyTerra, have always been prohibited from interfering with GPS, Kirkland said.

In the near term, the petition probably will have little effect, said Tim Farrar, a mobile satellite services analyst at TMF Associates.

"It's very unlikely that the FCC will take any action on it at this point in time," Farrar said. However, the petition may signal that LightSquared is getting ready for legal action to defend what it has called its property rights in the spectrum, Farrar said. "It may be part of building a case to sue for compensation" if it is denied the right to build the network, he said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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