LightSquared to FCC: You owe us spectrum

Updated. If the Federal Communications Commission won’t let LightSquared launch LTE in its satellite spectrum, then the carrier wants the FCC to find its network another home on the airwaves.
The commission shot down LightSquared’s 4G plans last month after the GPS industry and federal agencies claimed that its high-powered LTE systems would overpower commercial and government GPS receivers, which use a neighboring band. But on Friday, LightSquared said it is petitioning the FCC to either reconsider that decision or compensate it with new, less-controversial spectrum over which to launch its network.
“They can’t just leave us without some alternative to build a network,” said Jeff Carlisle, the company’s EVP for regulatory affairs and public policy, at a briefing with media on Friday.
Carlisle said ideally the FCC would green-light its network, but if the commission rules that all or a portion of LightSquared’s 50-plus MHz of L-band spectrum can’t coexist with GPS, then it must swap it out with a similar amount of airwaves in a band suitable for mobile broadband. To make its case, LightSquared summed up all of its beefs with the government and the GPS industry in a filing it will soon submit to the FCC.

LightSquared: It’s not us, it’s you

Those complaints are numerous. Foremost, LightSquared claims that the whole interference mess isn’t the fault of its network, but of sloppy receiver design by companies like Garmin(s grmn) and Trimble(s trmb) – LightSquared’s transmissions aren’t encroaching on GPS’s turf, rather GPS is listening in on its spectrum. Given that LightSquared is coloring within the lines, it claims that the GPS industry should be afforded no legal protection.
Technically LightSquared is right, though interference was never a problem until LightSquared tried to rezone its L-band spectrum from satellite to terrestrial use. Even if the FCC were to agree, the commission is still in a tough spot since allowing LightSquared’s network to go forward could jeopardize consumer, commercial and government navigation and location devices across the country.
But, in its filing, LightSquared also claimed that wasn’t the case. It called the government interference tests “deeply flawed,” asked the FCC for new evaluations of its methodology and conclusions, and demanded that it explore the fixes LightSquared has proposed to mitigate any interference that might remain. Finally, LightSquared claimed it was getting a raw deal. The FCC encouraged LightSquared to build its LTE network to meet national broadband goals, but was now reneging due to political and industry pressures, LightSquared claimed.

LightSquared has a long road ahead

The FCC decision isn’t final until after a public comment period, so LightSquared will get a hearing. If it doesn’t get permission to move forward or receive compensation in the form of alternate airwaves, it could still try the courts – which LightSquared indicated was a possibility. But even if it overcomes all of those obstacles, it still has to find a way to build its network.
On Friday, Sprint severed its ties with LightSquared, taking its commitment to build and operate LightSquared’s network with it. LightSquared now has to find another network-hosting partner or raise billions of dollars to fund its own build-out. Meanwhile, LightSquared only has enough funding to keep going another few quarters, the company said.
Update. The Coalition to Save Our GPS on Friday also filed its comments (pdf) with the FCC in the LightSquared matter. You can pretty much sum up its views in a few words: Kill it now. Here’s an excerpt:

All parties except LightSquared have reached the conclusion that [LightSquared’s spectrum] is not [compatible with existing adjacent-band GPS operations]. Therefore, the FCC’s International Bureau should act quickly in adopting its proposal to affirm the findings of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) that LightSquared’s proposed operations would cause harmful interference to GPS and that no feasible mitigation measures exist at this time, revoke the conditional authority that the International Bureau provided to LightSquared, and suspend indefinitely LightSquared’s [terrestrial network] authorization.
Tower Image courtesy of Flickr user Nikhil Verma.