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Lawmakers: FCC may have rushed LightSquared decision

The agency failed to consider interference questions before allowing the company to move forward, critics say

By Grant Gross
September 21, 2012 12:40 PM ET

IDG News Service - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission rushed to judgment in giving permission in early 2011 for startup LightSquared to offer LTE service in a band of wireless spectrum next to a band used by GPS devices, several U.S. lawmakers said Friday.

By allowing LightSquared to move forward without fully considering GPS interference issues, the FCC has wasted an opportunity to bring more mobile competition to the U.S., said Representative Cliff Stearns, chairman of the investigations subcommittee of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.

With LightSquared's FCC permission now pulled, the company is in "regulatory limbo," Stearns, a Florida Republican, said during a hearing. "LightSquared, a company that committed billions of dollars and years of time into developing its network, has filed for bankruptcy. It's 40 megahertz of spectrum is left unused in a time when demand for wireless service and broadband is exploding."

In February, after loud complaints about interference from the GPS industry and some government agencies, the FCC moved to pull its conditional waiver allowing LightSquared to move forward. LightSquared filed for bankruptcy in May, although the FCC is still looking for ways to mitigate interference to GPS devices that pick up signals from devices operating in the LightSquared spectrum.

Several subcommittee members suggested the FCC rushed its original approval for LightSquared, with some lawmakers focusing questions on the length of a public comment period in November 2010 before the FCC granted LightSquared its conditional waiver to offer service. After some groups requested an extension from the FCC's original seven-day comment period, the agency added three days.

"Three days doesn't seem like a lot of time for an issue of this complexity," said Representative Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican.

But Mindel De La Torre, chief of the FCC's International Bureau, and Julius Knapp, chief of the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology, defended the timeline.

The FCC has considered allowing terrestrial mobile service to use the so-called L-band of the Mobile Satellite Spectrum since 2001, allowing multiple public comment periods, and the GPS industry first raised concerns about devices operating in LightSquared's spectrum overloading GPS receivers in July 2010, De La Torre said. The GPS industry had raised some concerns earlier about devices in the LightSquared spectrum bleeding over into the GPS spectrum, she said, but not receivers in the GPS spectrum overloading.

The FCC's rulemaking processes are open, "and it's incumbent on all the parties to participate," Knapp added. "This situation has been, in my 38 years at the FCC, an anomaly."

Jim Kirkland, vice president and general counsel of GPS provider Trimble, called the FCC officials' testimony "deeply misguided and wrong."

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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