LightSquared, the hedge fund-backed company planning to build a nationwide wireless broadband network to compete with AT&T and Verizon Wireless, is asking the Federal Communications Commission to set stricter technical rules for GPS devices.
Today, the company, which has invested billions of dollars to build a wireless broadband network that will blanket the U.S., filed a document with the FCC asking the agency to begin a rule-making process that will enforce strict standards on GPS devices, so that these devices will not inadvertently receive signals that are coming from adjacent spectrum bands.
For more than a year, LightSquared has been embroiled in a political and regulatory battle with the GPS industry and U.S. military, which claim that the company's network will interfere with existing GPS devices. They've lobbied the FCC and Congress to make sure that LightSquared's network does not get built until interference issues are resolved.
LightSquared obtained the spectrum it plans to use for its network through a series of acquisitions. The spectrum it intends to use for its network was originally meant for satellite communications, but the FCC cleared it for terrestrial use in 2005. And last year, the FCC granted the company a waiver so that LightSquared could operate a terrestrial-only network.
LightSquared has acknowledged some interference problems, and it's tried to mitigate the issues. Last year it agreed to only use a portion of its wireless spectrum which is the furthest from the GPS bands. And it showed that filtering technology added to existing and new receivers would mitigate most problems.
But in a recent test conducted by the government, there were still significant interference issues. LightSquared said the tests were fixed and it would like the testing redone. Meanwhile, the FCC has said it won't grant LightSquared final approval to build its network until the interference issues have been resolved.
Even though FCC regulations don't specifically say that companies are protected from signals outside their own spectrum bands, it's unlikely that the FCC would approve LightSquared's network given that the network could interfere with millions of critical GPS devices.
But LightSquared is fighting back in its latest filing. And it says that the companies and the government agencies that have deployed and continue to deploy GPS receivers that "listen" to signals in adjacent bands need to be held accountable and not LightSquared.
"While the Commission often defers to market forces rather than directly regulating receiver performance, regulation of RNSS receivers is needed because the market has failed to provide a sufficient incentive for all manufacturers of commercial RNSS receivers to ensure that their devices operate reliably in the vicinity of authorized transmitters in adjacent bands."
The company is asking the FCC to adopt new rules that would require strict design standards for GPS devices. The company said that many of the problems that the GPS industry has cited could be fixed with filters.
LightSquared has already signed contracts with companies to use its network, including a multiyear, multibillion dollar deal with Sprint Nextel. LightSquared has until mid-March to get regulatory approval or it risks losing the deal with Sprint.
LightSquared has said publicly that it has enough cash to keep operating for several quarters. And the company's executives have also said they'd pursue legal action if they can't resolve the issue with the GPS industry. But the battle is clearly weighing on the company. Last week, it was reported that Harbinger Capital Partners, the hedge fund run by Philip Falcone, which is the largest investor in LightSquared, lost 46.6 percent of its value last year. LightSquared is Harbinger's largest investment.