Pop! – FCC to Suspend LightSquared Waiver

Editorial by Gavin Schrock, PLS

"The dust of exploded [dreams] makes for a fine sunset" - Geoffrey Mandan

It may sound like the saga is over, but there will be changes on the horizon for the positioning, navigation and timing communities. GNSS is spared an impending blow, but should prepare for some long-term but not altogether unexpected nor completely unwelcome changes.
As we reported last week an expected report was due on Tuesday February 14th, 2012 from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the federal agency directly advising the FCC on the LightSquared issue, echoing the PNT EXCOMM recommendations from January 13th of this year. The letter from NTIA chief Lawrence Strickling to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski concludes,“at this time that there are no mitigation strategies that both solve the interference issues and provide LightSquared with an adequate commercial network deployment.” As expected, concerns for civil aviation and national security held the greatest weight in deliberations. The NTIA also recommended a long period of study of these issues and spectral policy change proposals, with a longer transition period added for any negotiated changes.
The FCC released a statement shortly after stating that they would not lift the prohibition on LightSquared from deploying its network because of the affects on GNSS. Official word is expected from the FCC within the next few days, as well as an announcement of yet another public comment period on the FCC plan to suspend the waiver. The FCC is also expected to follow NTIA recommendations to begin the long process of working on both the “protection standards” sought by the GNSS community, and possibly the receiver standards sought by the telecommunications industry—these combined initiatives may see an eventual reasoned and responsible co-existence of GNSS and broader uses of adjacent spectrum.
What this means to the end user is that there will not be a LightSquared system rapidly adopted as originally planned, if at all, but that that there will most likely be eventual changes needed to how GNSS equipment works—in the very distant future. Many say this would not be before the 2020 date of the planned P(Y) code sunset (that would affect codeless and semi-codeless solutions); many more believe the inevitable bureaucratic tangles and public safety considerations would push this even further back. It is to be noted that the recent petition by LightSquared, seeking an FCC ruling that GPS is not entitled to specific protections, is still open for public comment. While prospects for such a ruling are looking more like a long shot, those on all sides of the issue are encouraged to file a comment. The NSPS/ACSM has put together a summary and guide on how to file.

This news is expected to be received with a mixture of excitement and relief for GNSS users caught in a yearlong untenable situation, and dismay, disappointment, and perhaps anger from LightSquared and their supporters who feel they have been trapped in an untenable and unfair position of their own. This does not necessarily spell the end of LightSquared or plans for whoever may eventually hold the license for the spectrum in question, but that the end game may be long in coming. How this saga plays out in the halls of government, spectral soul-searching within the FCC, PNT, DoD, FAA, and GPS and telecommunications industries may include sojourns in courtrooms as well as continued airings in the court of public opinion. But for the immediate future, GNSS users and developers who have been in a holding pattern may find new wind at their backs to implement and innovate.

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