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FCC pulls plug on wireless network opposed by construction industry

By Anick Jesdanun
Associated Press

NEW YORK — Federal officials plan to kill a private company’s plans to start a national high-speed wireless broadband network after concluding it would in some cases jam personal-navigation and other GPS devices.

The Federal Communications Commission sought public comments Wednesday on revoking LightSquared’s permit after a federal agency that coordinates wireless signals, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, concluded that there’s no way to mitigate potential interference.

When the FCC gave LightSquared tentative approval last year to build the network, it said the company wouldn’t be allowed to start operations until the government was satisfied that any problems were addressed. LightSquared and the FCC had insisted the new network could co-exist with GPS systems.

Device makers, however, feared that GPS signals would suffer the way a radio station can get drowned out by a stronger broadcast in a nearby channel. The problem is that sensitive GPS receivers, designed to pick up relatively weak signals from space, could be overwhelmed by high-power signals from as many as 40,000 LightSquared transmitters on the ground. LightSquared planned to transmit on a frequency adjacent to that used by GPS.

The construction industry opposed LightSquared’s network because of fears that it would create interference with existing GPS signals, significantly disrupting high-precision GPS that is used on equipment.

After conducting tests, the NTIA said that it found interference with dozens of personal-navigation devices and aircraft-control systems that rely on GPS.

The agency said that new technology in the future might mitigate the problems, but it would take time and money to replace GPS equipment already used extensively in the U.S. The NTIA, a branch of the Commerce Department, also said adjustments to LightSquared’s network could cost billions of dollars and might not solve all of the problems.

Virginia-based LightSquared had no immediate comment Wednesday.

LightSquared had hoped to compete nationally with super-fast, fourth-generation wireless services being rolled out AT&T, Verizon Wireless and other traditional wireless companies. It hadn’t planned to sell directly to consumers. Rather, it would have provided network access to companies including Leap Wireless, parent of the Cricket phone service, and Best Buy, which planned to rebrand the service under its own name.

Making more airwaves available has been one of the FCC’s top goals. Wireless companies have been clamoring for greater ability to feed consumers’ appetites for movies, music and games on a variety of mobile devices.

FCC spokeswoman Tammy Sun said the experience with LightSquared “revealed challenges to maximizing the opportunities of mobile broadband for our economy.”

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