February 15, 2012, 8:33 PM — Though would-be mobile carrier LightSquared says it still wants to find a solution to interference with GPS, its options are limited, industry observers said on Wednesday.
Following a recommendation from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Tuesday, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed indefinitely suspending LightSquared's authorization to operate a land-based network. It also called for cancelling a conditional waiver that would have let the carrier sell access to its satellite and LTE (Long-Term Evolution) networks separately. That waiver is conditioned on interference issues being resolved first.
The FCC's response came after months of charges and countercharges between LightSquared and backers of GPS, including the Defense Department and Federal Aviation Administration. In the end, it was critical federal agencies, more than the GPS equipment makers and industries that use the navigation technology, that probably drove the FCC to take the firm position it did, analysts said.
"In the spectrum world, GPS was too big to fail," said Maury Mechanick, an attorney at White & Case and a former executive of satellite provider Comsat.
While LightSquared and some advocates of greater broadband competition decried the possibility of shelving a project that could have brought a fast mobile network to 260 million U.S. residents, GPS supporters praised the FCC's decision.
"The FCC has acted appropriately by declaring that its non-interference condition has not been satisfied and that LightSquared will not be permitted to move forward with its proposal to build a nationwide high-powered terrestrial network in the mobile satellite band," the Coalition to Save Our GPS, a frequent LightSquared critic, said in a statement on Tuesday.
LightSquared and Philip Falcone, whose Harbinger Capital funds the fledgling carrier, both slammed the FCC proposals while holding out hope for a solution that would let the network go forward. In a statement released late Wednesday, Falcone said the federal government had ordered LightSquared to build a US$14 billion network and then blocked it from doing so. He said this decision was a political one driven by special interest groups and called for "rational public policy" to keep the plan alive.