Possibly the worst thing that can happen to an FCC proceeding is for Congress to get involved. A little more than a week after LightSquared met with FCC officials to discuss its latest proposal to mitigate interference with GPS units, a congressional hearing, “Sustaining GPS for National Security,” held on Sept. 15, threatened to descend the proceeding into political rancor.
Perhaps emboldened by the hoopla surrounding Obama-favorite Solyndra’s high profile bankruptcy, Republicans sensed blood in the water when it came to light that the White House had attempted to alter General William Shelton’s congressional testimony on LightSquared’s impact on military GPS.
On Sept. 15, Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) and chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, accused the White House of moving in favor of LightSquared because of campaign contributions made by its owner, Phillip Falcone.
“We cannot afford to have federal telecommunications policy, especially where it affects national security, be made in the same way that the White House has parceled out a half billion dollars in loan guarantees to the failed Solyndra, a large political campaign contributor of the president,” Turner said in an interview with John King at Real Clear Politics, a conservative web site.
As a result, the Twittersphere was abuzz with references to stories such as the one on the Daily Beast’s web site with the headline, “White House Pressure for a Donor?”
“The Pentagon has worried for months that a project backed by a prominent Democratic donor might interfere with military GPS. Now Congress wants to know if the White House pressured a general to change his testimony,” led the story in the Daily Beast.
Sanjiv Ahuja, chairman and CEO of LightSquared, denied that his company had benefited from political connections, saying that LightSquared’s founder has given to both parties and two-thirds of those donations have gone to Republicans. He added that regulators from both parties have supported LightSquared’s efforts.
“Any suggestion that LightSquared has run roughshod over the regulatory process is contradicted by the reality of eight long years spent gaining approvals. Just this week, there has been another request from the government for an additional round of testing of LightSquared’s network,” Ahuja said.
Another sideshow at the hearing occurred when FCC Chairman Genachowski decided not to show up to testify. Rep. Turner opined that his absence was an “affront” to the subcommittee.
“Personally, I feel this is an absolute effort by the Chairman to avoid the oversight questions and to avoid the issue of how [LightSquared] will affect GPS and how the FCC’s processes appear to be irregular on how this matter is moving forward,” Turner told the hearing.
LightSquared Continues to Craft a Technical Solution
Back on Sept. 6, LightSquared met with FCC officials to discuss the technical aspects of its latest proposal to ensure operational compatibility between its terrestrial wireless technology and GPS units.
LightSquared’s latest plans limit power to no more than -30 dBm at points on the ground. Power would be increased to -27 dBm after January 1, 2015 and then to -24 dBm after January 1, 2017.
The carrier said it would provide a long term, stable satellite signal for MSS-provided GPS at frequencies near the top of the MSS Downlink Band, 1555 MHz to 1559 MHz.
Measurements will be performed at distances starting 50 meters from the base of the antenna on the 10 megahertz centered at 1531 MHz.
LightSquared discussed using narrowband high-rejection filtering in the GPS timing reference antennas and amplifiers as part of a mitigation solution.
“Filter technologies exist to protect wideband GPS receivers from LightSquared LTE signals in the 1526 MHz to 1536 MHz band and is realizable without compensation techniques,” LightSquared said. The timing receiver mitigation solution works with all narrowband timing receivers configured with separate, external antenna, LightSquared said.
On Sept. 13, the FCC issued a Public Notice stating that while LightSquared had made progress in mitigating GPS interference, but concerns still remained and further testing was necessary. LightSquared originally revised its deployment plan on June 30 to operate terrestrial transmitters only in the lower 10 megahertz of its spectrum.
“The results thus far from the testing, using the lower 10 megahertz, showed significant improvement compared to tests of the upper 10 megahertz, although there continue to be interference concerns for certain types of high precision GPS receivers, including devices used in national security and aviation applications. Additional tests are therefore necessary,” according to the FCC.
The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau demanded a payment of $25,000 in November from Daniel Smith, licensee of station KANR in Belle Plain, Kan., and owner of an antenna structure, for various violations including failure to monitor the structure’s lighting and failure to maintain the paint on the antenna structure for visibility, according to a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture on the FCC’s website.
In March 2010, the agents from the Bureau’s Kansas City office inspected the station KANR tower, which is registered to Smith, and observed that the paint on the tower was severely faded and areas of bare metal were showing. Smith stated that the tower was last painted before it was erected in 1996, according to the FCC.
In addition, the agents observed that all three flashing beacons on the structure were either not lighted or not flashing, and several of the side lamps on the structure were inoperable. Smith admitted that the station did not have any automated equipment to monitor the structure’s lighting and no station personnel to visually monitor the lighting on the structure, according to the FCC.
The station’s antenna structure is 495 feet AGL and must be painted and lit.
Section 17.47(a) of the FCC’s rules states that the owner of any antenna structure that is registered with the Commission and has been assigned lighting specifications “(1) shall make an observation of the antenna structure’s lights at least once each 24 hours either visually or by observing an automatic properly maintained indicator designed to register any failure of such lights, to ensure that all such lights are functioning properly as required; or alternatively, (2) shall provide and properly maintain an automatic alarm system designed to detect any failure of such lights and to provide indication of such failure to the owner.”
Section 17.50 of the Rules states that “antenna structures requiring painting under this part shall be cleaned or repainted as often as necessary to maintain good visibility.