In Farm Country, Support for Light-Squared: What?!

Kansas Viewpoint

Farm folks are generally wary of a cell signal that voids their GPS and K-State professor's expressed support startles precision farmer audience

Published on: January 19, 2012
Most folks in farm country have weighed in against the licensing of Light-Squared, the new player in the cell phone market that promises to deliver broadband to the remotest areas of rural America where there is currently no signal.

Problem is, the delivery comes on the frequency next door to GPS.

It is the equivalent, said one presenter at Thursday's Kansas Agricultural Technologies Conference, of trying to speak in a hotel conference room while Led Zepplin cranks up at full bore in the room next door.

Most people in farm country like the idea of more access to high-speed broadband Internet. But farm operations are heavily reliant on GPS techology, so much so that most agree guidance systems and lightbars are now standard equipment, no longer the "new thing."

So there were some startled looks in the room when K-State professor Terry Kastens said he thinks Light-Squared is getting a raw deal. They paid for the spectrum, he said, and now aren't being allowed to use it because GPS manufacturers rely on wandering out of their own assigned band width to pick up signals.

"The benefits to farm country would be tremendous," Kastens said. "The drawbacks can be overcome with technology."

Yes, they can, agreed precision farmer Kansas Ag Research and Technology Association member Roger Brining. The problem is at what cost? And whose bill is it?

And Brining said, the price for agriculture could be a drop in the bucket to the cost to general aviation.

"You put on a filter, fix a receiver and you are good to go in the ag world," Brining said. "But in general aviation, even if you get the equipment working, every single modification has to be certified. It could take years. It would kill general aviation."