Farm Groups to FCC: Study LightSquared's Impact on GPS

Company's impact could adversely affect precision agriculture operations, according to Nebraska producer.

Published on: Oct 18, 2011

The American Soybean Association and 12 other national producer groups that represent American farmers and all major crop commodities have signed a letter urging the Federal Communications Commission to conduct additional targeted testing of LightSquared.

They want more testing to ensure that any potential commercial terrestrial services offered by LightSquared will not interfere with Global Positioning System operations utilized by farmers in the production of crops, according to Steve Wellman, a Syracuse, Neb., producer and ASA first vice president.

In the ag sector, GPS-based technologies are responsible for an estimated $19 billion in higher annual farm revenue, in addition to considerable safety and environmental benefits. Thus, a lot is at stake for precision agriculture and this is why comprehensive testing is so important, says Wellman.

"It would be totally unacceptable to expect the GPS community, including government users, farmers and other taxpayer, to bear any cost for replacing equipment that ceases to function properly if solutions are found enabling LightSquared to move forward," he says. "Any costs associated with retrofitting or replacing GPS receivers must be borne by LightSquared."

Wellman adds, "As users of GPS precision equipment in agricultural applications, we believe this additional testing is imperative. We need to know with certainty that any modifications and proposed solutions will work for new and existing precision agriculture equipment." 

In addition to ASA, the letter to the FCC was signed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Sugar Alliance, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Barley Growers Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Potato Council, National Sunflower Association, U.S. Canola Association, USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council, and USA Rice Federation. 

In January 2011, the FCC gave conditional approval to LightSquared Subsidiary LLC to build tens of thousands of ground stations that may cause interference to GPS signals, according to the farm groups. The radio wave spectrum LightSquared plans to use for its system sits in what is known as the L-Band, which is just adjacent to the spectrum which GPS devices use. 

LightSquared gave initial assurances that its original proposal would not cause interference to the nation's GPS system. However, government and commercial tests demonstrated conclusively that its original network proposal would cause widespread disruption to GPS service.

"ASA noticed in recent public testimony before Congress that key government agencies that rely on GPS all agree that it is unclear whether LightSquared's revised proposal will protect the government functions administered by these agencies from harmful interference," Wellman says. "Agricultural operations that rely extensively on widely deployed GPS receivers and satellite augmentation signals for human safety, productivity, and mitigation of environmental hazards face the same unknown." 

Testing must include laboratory and field analysis of LightSquared's proposed solutions, and must adequately examine the full range of scenarios to ensure that the base stations and handheld devices proposed by LightSquared do not degrade GPS receivers, Wellman adds.