LightSquared: GPS industry has campaign to discredit company

Jeff Carlisle, LightSquared's vice president of regulatory affairs and public policy, accused the Global Positioning System (GPS) industry of trying to manufacture a political scandal to discredit his wireless company on Wednesday.

"[GPS companies] have completely mischaracterized the political donations [LightSquared investor] Phil Falcone and our CEO [Sanjiv Ahuja] have made," Carlisle said after a House Small Business Committee hearing.

When asked whether he believes the GPS industry has pushed negative political stories about LightSquared, Carlisle said, "There's no doubt in my mind. Of course they have. It's not like this stuff just shows up for no reason whatsoever."

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Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), have called for an investigation of LightSquared's ties to the White House and the Federal Communications Commission to determine whether the company has been given preferential treatment as it seeks regulatory approval.

And Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who's running as a candidate in the GOP presidential primary, accused the president of "crony capitalism" for his alleged ties to the wireless company.

According to a report, the White House asked an Air Force general last month to change his congressional testimony to make it more supportive of LightSquared.

LightSquared has sent emails to White House aides, at times mentioning its fundraising for Democrats and President Obama. LightSquared's Falcone and Ahuja have both donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republicans and Democrats.

The GPS industry denied coordinating any political campaign against LightSquared.

"LightSquared’s suggestion that inquiries from members of Congress about LightSquared’s contacts with the Obama administration are orchestrated by the GPS industry are silly and self-serving," a spokeswoman for the Coalition to Save Our GPS said. "These members have raised questions about meetings and contacts that are a matter of public record. The Coalition is focused on the serious interference issues presented by LightSquared’s proposals and the need to responsibly address them, which LightSquared has yet to do."   

LightSquared plans to launch a wholesale wireless broadband service, but tests earlier this year showed its network interferes with GPS devices. To address the interference issue, LightSquared agreed to operate its cell towers on only the lower 10 MHz of its spectrum.

But even with that commitment, the company acknowledges its network will cause problems for some precision GPS devices, such as those used in agriculture, surveying and construction. LightSquared says it has developed the technology to retrofit precision GPS devices to allow them to function in the presence of the company's signal.

LightSquared has committed to pay up to $50 million to retrofit government receivers, but says fixing commercial receivers is the GPS industry's responsibility.

"[GPS companies] don't want anybody to focus on the real issue: how do you solve the problem and who writes the check?" Carlisle said.

The FCC says it will not allow LightSquared to move forward until it resolves the GPS interference problem. The company's network is currently undergoing another round of testing.