LightSquared as Victim

How will GPS end users fare in the next phase of the saga?

 by Gavin Schrock, PLS

"In wars amongst ideas, doubters are the victim" – Toba Beta

On Valentine’s Day was the revelation that the FCC proposes to vacate the January 2011 waiver for LightSquared and all but halt the build-out of their ambitious LTE network, citing (in the view of the FCC and other federal agencies) failure to meet the condition of the waiver concerning GPS interference. This was immediately discounted by LightSquared. This is no surprise as they have invested a lot of money in the venture, and they would be doing themselves, their partners, and their investors a disservice by not at least appearing to fight back.

LightSquared has been receiving a lot of sympathetic coverage by business-centric publications like Forbes and the Wall Street Journal painting LightSquared as a victim. We may be entering a new phase in the saga, one of posturing on all sides in anticipation of expected legal proceedings.
Much of this recent coverage points to possible legal action scenarios. End users, individually or as a group, would not conceivably be named in any of the legal proceedings, and even though end users might be stakeholders in the outcome, they would not have direct input on any proceedings.
But guess who might end up paying the price of settlements or solutions? From their point of view, and with so much at stake, it is understandable that there may be some legitimate questions raised by LightSquared; a few of these have some people in government pondering scenarios for future policy changes.

Even so, LightSquared appears to be in a losing position and looking to right wrongs they feel have been levied against them from all directions, even if this means lawsuits.  Some might conclude that they have constructed straw men—whom they might not be able to attack for their actual views or actions but on whom the can project attackable views.

And as has been the nature of the coverage and deliberations over the course of this saga, there has been little consideration of the position of the GPS end users and how they might be affected by such resolutions. Consideration of “LightSquared as Victim” is no different: How does the end user fit into the picture? Time to ask yourself as an end user a few questions:

  1. Is LightSquared a victim of poorly managed spectrum and policy? Of the FCC? They could certainly make that case. But it would be for a court to decide.
  2. Is LightSquared a victim of the GPS Industry influencing policy? They could certainly make that case. But it would be for a court to decide.
  3. Is LightSquared a victim of politics? Were they undone by politics? (And/or did the initially benefit from politics?) They could certainly make that case (or deny the latter). But it would be for a court to decide.
  4. Is LightSquared a victim of a conspiracy by other telecommunications companies? They could certainly make that case. It would be for a court to decide.
  5. Is LightSquared a victim of innovation being suppressed by special interests? They could certainly make the case. (But since when is civil aviation safety a “special interest”?) Sorry … but that would be for a court to decide.
  6. Is LightSquared a victim of bad advice, bad planning, bad assumptions, and blind ambition? Could they sue their own advisors? It would be for a court to decide.
The most important question is:

7. Is LightSquared a victim of GPS end users and taxpayers who otherwise benefit from and depend on GPS?    

It would take a judge, or jury, or independent federal investigations, or new laws, regulations, standards or combinations of all of these to answer and resolve some or all of questions 1 through 6. But what of question 7? Should GPS users be viewed as “victimizers” of anyone in this matter? Can end users be blamed for using GPS in a manner that is not prohibited in any way in the past or at this time (and will not be until new policies, regulations, standards, and maybe even laws are crafted?)
Even if LightSquared is successful in proving that they are a victim of one thing or another (and that may take more than one legal proceeding), then why is it that the likely outcome of any of the possible legal actions might result in end users and taxpayers having to pay the price for wrongs brought about by others? When is the day in court for the end users?
Who ends up being the “victim”?
On another procedural note: The FCC has opened a public comment period on their proposal to vacate the original waiver—the public comment period will close on March 1st. End users should ponder such questions, consider their own situation, and weigh in.

About the Author

  • Gavin Schrock, PLS
    Gavin Schrock, PLS
    Gavin Schrock, PLS is a surveyor, technology writer, and operator of an RTN. From PA, Gavin spent most of his youth in Australia, then worked in AK, AZ, HI, CO, CA, and a few other places before settling in the Pacific Northwest. He has worked in surveying, mapping, data management, GNSS, and GIS for more than three decades in the civil, utility, defense, and mapping disciplines. He has published in these fields and has taught at local, state, national, and international conferences.

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