The Farm Equipment Manufacturers Association has joined a wide variety of industries and companies supporting the efforts of the “Coalition to Save Our GPS”, in an effort to resolve a serious threat to Global Positioning Systems (GPS) — a national utility upon which farmers and their equipment rely on more every day.

The threat stems from a recent and highly unusual decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to grant a conditional waiver that allows the dramatic expansion of terrestrial use of the satellite spectrum, immediately neighboring that of GPS, potentially causing severe interference to millions of GPS receivers. The conditional waiver was granted to a company called LightSquared.

The “Coalition to Save our GPS” includes representatives from a broad range of industries, including agriculture, aviation, construction, transportation, engineering and surveying, as well as GPS-based equipment manufacturers and service providers. The Coalition’s website is SaveOurGPS.org.

On March 11, 2011, a founding member of the Coalition told a House subcommittee that the recent action by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could cause “consequences of disruption” to GPS that will be “far reaching, likely to affect large portions of the population and the federal government.”

In testimony prepared for delivery before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science of the House Appropriations Committee, Vice President and General Counsel Jim Kirkland of Trimble, a GPS equipment manufacturer, stated that a recent and highly unusual FCC decision creates a serious risk of severe interference to millions of GPS receivers.

The unusual waiver granted in January to LightSquared by the FCC, allows it to use its satellite spectrum for high-powered, ground-based broadband transmissions, if the company can demonstrate that harmful interference could be avoided. The usual FCC process of conducting extensive testing followed by approvals was not followed in this instance. Instead, the process was approved first, then tested.

Additional safeguards are needed, the GPS Coalition says. The Coalition recommends the following:

The FCC must make clear, and the NTIA must ensure, that LightSquared’s license modification is contingent on the outcome of the mandated study. The study must be comprehensive, objective and based on correct assumptions about existing GPS uses rather than theoretical possibilities. The views of LightSquared, as an interested party, are entitled to no special weight in this process.

The FCC should make clear that LightSquared and its investors should not proceed to make any investment in operating facilities prior to a final FCC decision (or at least make it explicit that they do so at their own risk). While this is the FCC’s established policy, it failed to make this explicit in its order.

Further, the FCC’s, and NTIA’s, finding that “harmful interference concerns have been resolved” must mean “resolved to the satisfaction of preexisting GPS providers and users.”

Resolution of interference has to be the obligation of LightSquared, not the extensive GPS user community of millions of citizens. LightSquared must bear the costs of preventing interference of any kind resulting from operations in LightSquared’s frequencies. GPS users or providers should not have to bear any of the consequences of LightSquared’s actions.

This is a matter of critical national interest. There must be a reasonable opportunity for public comment of at least 45 days on the report produced by the working group.

The Farm Equipment Manufacturers Association adds its name to an impressive group of Coalition members which include: Association of Equipment Manufacturers, Aeronautical Repair Stations Association, Air Transport Association, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, American Rental Association, Associated Equipment Distributors, Case New Holland, Caterpillar Inc., Edison Electric Institute, Esri, Garmin, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Deere & Company, National Association of Manufacturers, OmniSTAR, and Trimble. Additional members are expected to join in the near future.