A coalition of 33 senators, including 13 who are members of the Senate General Aviation Caucus, have asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to rescind wireless network operator LightSquared’s approval to expand until the company can demonstrate that signals from tens of thousands of ground stations won’t interfere with GPS reception.
The letter comes after the FCC’s International Bureau granted a conditional waiver earlier this year to LightSquared to build 40,000 ground stations throughout the United States to enhance its satellite network to improve cell phone transmissions. Those stations could cause widespread interference to nearby GPS receivers, because the spectrum used by LightSquared is adjacent to the spectrum used by GPS, according to officials with the newly formed Coalition to Save Our GPS.
The senators’ letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski asks him to take all necessary steps to protect GPS “from interference that could cause interruptions” from LightSquared’s wireless network.
LightSquared’s condition waiver has been criticized by the Coalition to Save Our GPS and others as a “highly unusual” FCC action, given the “fundamentally different” nature of the network from what the commission’s integrated service rule permits.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), which has been lobbying to protect GPS, urges its members to fly in the vicinity of Boulder City and Las Vegas when LightSquared is testing its system and to report any GPS signal degradation to the FAA and AOPA. The tests are scheduled to conclude May 27.
“AOPA and our fellow aviation industry stakeholders have been working diligently to gather support in the Senate for the letter to the FCC,” said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA vice president of legislative affairs. “Almost a third of the Senate signed this letter to protect our GPS, which is significant and sends a strong message to the FCC.”
The May 19 letter acknowledges the work of the alphabet groups’ lobbyists: “Numerous parties have raised significant concerns about interference from the LightSquared system into the Global Positioning System (GPS) frequencies. These parties included the GPS industry, aviation, agriculture, construction, cellular telecommunications companies and government entities such as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Homeland Security. We have substantial concerns that LightSquared’s proposal places an unacceptable risk to public safety through interference with GPS receivers necessary for aviation, first responders, agriculture, construction, maritime navigation, E-911, and national defense systems.”
The letter calls on Genachowski to involve the full commission “in the process of making sure GPS is not compromised in any way, that the FCC require an objective demonstration of non-interference with GPS, and that the waiver for LightSquared be withdrawn until this demonstration is met.”
Written by Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), the letter was signed by a bipartisan group of senators, including Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Scott Brown (R-Mass.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), David Vitter (R-La.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and John Thune (R-S.D.).
In the letter, Roberts notes that “millions of Americans rely on GPS to get around safely every day. It is also critically important to aviation safety, first responders, civil engineers who monitor dams and bridges, and it is central to our national defense capabilities. Reliable GPS affects virtually every American. GPS is far too important to have anything interfere with it.”