LightSquared asks FCC to set tough standards for GPS receivers

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"If GPS devices had stayed in their own lane, there wouldn't be an issue with LightSquared's network," Jeff Carlisle, LightSquared's vice president of regulatory affairs, told reporters on a conference call on Tuesday.

The GPS industry argues the interference is a result of LightSquared operating powerful cell towers on frequencies that should only be used by satellites. They say GPS receivers are too sensitive to effectively filter out LightSquared's powerful signal on nearby frequencies. 

The FCC granted LightSquared a conditional waiver to move forward last year, but after testing confirmed the interference problem, FCC officials clarified the company will only be granted final approval to launch its network if it fixes the interference problem.

According to FCC regulations, companies are not entitled to protection from signals outside of their airwave frequencies, or spectrum. 

But it is unlikely that the FCC would allow LightSquared to launch a network that interferes with millions of critical GPS devices, including aircraft navigation systems, even if the problem is the result of the GPS receivers picking up signals outside of their spectrum band. 

Carlisle accused GPS companies of making "a too big to fail argument" by saying the FCC should give them special protection because of the importance of their devices.  

With Tuesday's filing, LightSquared asked the FCC to enact new rules to require special design standards for GPS devices. In the filing, the company argued that GPS receivers could be fixed using filters or other technical modifications. 

"This latest filing yet again proceeds from the same false premises and claims that LightSquared has repeated ad nauseam in its ongoing effort to deny its obligation to avoid harmful interference to millions of government and private GPS users,"  Jim Kirkland, general counsel of GPS-maker Trimble, said in a statement.

"In its January 2011 order, the FCC’s International Bureau made clear that LightSquared would not be permitted to commence operations until it had demonstrated that it would not interfere with GPS. LightSquared did not challenge this condition at the time, and has to live up to it. There is overwhelming technical evidence—including the most recent government test results—that this condition has not been satisfied. LightSquared’s continuing efforts to move the goal posts are too little, too late.”

LightSquared's Carlisle argued the rules would free up more spectrum to use for mobile broadband.  

He acknowledged that the FCC's rule-making process would likely take too long to help LightSquared with its immediate need to move forward, but he said the rules are important for the long-term regulatory environment. He said the rules would give "predictability and certainty to both sides."

LightSquared has until mid-March to secure regulatory approval or it risks losing a multibillion dollar contract with Sprint. 

Carlisle said the company has enough money to operate for "several quarters." 

--Updated at 4:48 p.m.