The dispute between LightSquared Inc. and global positioning system device manufacturers recently shifted back to Congress, where several House Armed Services Committee members criticized the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for “advocating” for LightSquared at the expense of critical GPS operations.

NCC is a member of a coalition of GPS manufacturers, farm equipment companies and agricultural organizations closely monitoring the issue.

During a hearing of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Rep. Turner, R-Ohio, the subcommittee chairman, criticized the FCC for allowing LightSquared to move ahead with its proposed nationwide mobile broadband network, despite interference concerns. Reps. Turner and Sanchez, D-Calif., have offered an amendment to the FY12 National Defense Authorization Act that would prevent the FCC from granting LightSquared final approval until the agency eliminates the threat of interference to Dept. of Defense and Dept. of Transportation GPS receivers.

In a Sept. 9 letter to Defense Deputy Secretary William Lynn and Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari, NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling urged both agencies to work with LightSquared to develop a joint testing plan to assess interference between the company's network and cellular and personal/general navigation GPS receivers. NTIA said the testing and analysis should be completed by Nov. 30. The agency also said a second phase of testing will be necessary to evaluate LightSquared's proposed plan for mitigating interference to high-precision and timing receivers.

Two days later, the FCC's International Bureau and Office of Engineering and Technology issued a public notice concurring with the NTIA on the need for additional testing. During the hearing, Rep. Scott, R-Ga., expressed concern that NTIA is essentially “advocating” on behalf of a private-sector corporation.

Both agencies play a vital role. While the FCC manages all commercial and public radio spectrum in the United States, the NTIA manages the federal government's use of the airwaves. Under the FCC’s initial March 2010 order approving the transaction that led to the creation of LightSquared, the company must also build a terrestrial broadband network covering at least 100 million people by the end of 2012, at least 145 million people by the end of 2013, and at least 260 million people by the end of 2015. Failure to comply with the build-out condition would result in the company's licenses automatically cancelling. LightSquared could ask the commission to ease deadlines given the issues related to GPS interference.

FCC withholds approval

Despite criticisms, the FCC has withheld final approval until the interference issues are resolved.

In June, LightSquared unveiled a new plan for deploying its network using a different block of spectrum that is farther away from the GPS spectrum band. It also has agreed to limit the permitted power level of an estimated 40,000 base stations to avoid overwhelming the signals of GPS devices. Recent test results have confirmed that use of the company's upper 10 MHz block of frequencies—not the lower block, the block that LightSquared now proposes to use for initial rollout of its network—interfered with GPS receivers used by the Coast Guard, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration, and caused GPS receivers used by state police, fire, and ambulance crews to lose reception.

Jeffrey Carlisle, LightSquared's executive vice president of regulatory affairs, has said that the company plans to unveil a prototype receiver that will allow precision GPS devices to operate without experiencing harmful interference from LightSquared's network in the lower 10 megahertz block of spectrum.