FCC Warned over GPS Signal Worries

Continued concern over a new broadband service and its impact on vital satellite infrastructure gets attention from two Senators.

Published on: May 23, 2011

GPS has become a critical system used by a range of industries from farms to commercial aviation. The satellite correction offered by the satellites orbiting the earth has become invaluable for millions, but that satellite signal may be in jeopardy. Senator Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., sent a letter late last week to the Federal Communications Commission asking Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski to take all necessary steps to protect GPS from interference.

In a release commenting on the letter, Roberts, who is ranking member on the Senate Ag Committee, notes that "GPS is an integral part of our national economy. Farmers rely on GPS for greater efficiency and environmental protection and just about every industry from manufacturing to distribution has come to rely on this valuable national utility. Reliable GPS affects virtually every American. GPS is far too important to have anything interfere with it."

Adds Nelson: "GPS is a vital tool for our economy, agricultural producers, national defenses, emergency responders and transportation networks."

Their letter comes after the International Bureau, a sub-organization within the FCC, granted a conditional waiver earlier this year to allow LightSquared to build 40,000 ground stations through the United States to enhance its satellite network. The concern is that the signal frequency used by those ground stations is very close to the weaker GPS signal sent by satellites, which could interfere with nearby GPS receivers.

The letter asks that the full commission be involved in the process of making sure GPS is not compromised in any way, that the FCC require an objective demonstration of non-interference with GPS and that the waiver for LightSquared be withdrawn until this demonstration is met.

Concern over the issue was raised by the Association of Equipment Manufacturers in February. The industry group is concerned about the loss of GPS signal and the efficacy of the system if LightSquared proceeds as planned. AEM pointed out at that time the FCC allowed LightSquared to conduct the interference tests - not a third-party - to test for trouble. This raised concern across a wide range of industries.