Philip Falcone’s LightSquared wireless service caused “significant interference” to U.S. military global-positioning receivers in tests, a lawmaker on the House Armed Services Committee said.
General William Shelton, the head of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, in a classified briefing said last week that tests revealed interference, Representative Michael Turner, an Ohio Republican, said today at a hearing of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, which he chairs.
Shelton in testimony today told the panel that specific results of testing earlier this year on military receivers are classified, “but the results were consistent” with tests that showed interference to civilian receivers.
LightSquared envisions offering wholesale service through a network of 40,000 base stations using airwaves previously reserved mainly for satellites. Makers and users of GPS devices, which rely on satellite signals, say LightSquared’s network would disrupt navigation by planes, boats, tractors and automobiles.
LightSquared faced testing earlier this year, and said it would initially forgo using its airwaves nearest to GPS. It said the move would cut interference to more than 99 percent of GPS devices. Deere & Co. (DE), the largest farm-equipment maker, and GPS maker Garmin Ltd. (GRMN) have said LightSquared’s new plan didn’t allay concerns about disruption to GPS. Federal agencies including the FCC have said interference concerns persist and more testing is needed.
‘No Higher Responsibility’
If LightSquared gains final approval, Defense Department “training activities in the United States would come to an end,” Turner said. He said troops rely on GPS to locate military units, conduct search-and-rescue operations, and call in close air support.
“I can think of no higher responsibility than to to make sure U.S. military forces are fully trained and equipped before they are deployed overseas to Afghanistan, Iraq, or any place in harm’s way,” Turner said.
LightSquared needs federal approval to commence commercial service with its network that is to eventually offer high-speed wireless Internet service to 260 million people. The Reston, Virginia-based wireless company is backed by Falcone’s Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, which has invested about $3 billion in the venture.
‘Substantial Financial Cost’
Redesigning GPS equipment to accommodate LightSquared signals “if possible” would “involve substantial financial cost and likely degrade the accuracy of high performance receivers,” Shelton said in his testimony.
Turner said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski refused to appear at today’s hearing. The subcommittee agreed to accept the chairman’s designee at the hearing, Tammy Sun, an FCC spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
“We never said that the chairman would not appear,” Sun said.
LightSquared wasn’t invited to testify at the hearing, Jeffrey Carlisle, the company’s executive vice president, said in a letter today to Turner and Representative Loretta Sanchez, of California, the subcommittee’s top Democrat.
“The issue at hand is caused because GPS receivers look into LightSquared’s spectrum,” Carlisle wrote in the letter distributed by e-mail. LightSquared’s power level has “been authorized for years,” Carlisle wrote.
‘Don’t Blame GPS’
“Don’t blame GPS,” Representative Thomas Petri, a Wisconsin Republican who chairs the Subcommittee on Aviation of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, separately wrote today.
“I would suggest that it is LightSquared using a part of the spectrum for inappropriate purposes that has led to this dilemma,” Petri said in a letter to LightSquared Chief Executive Officer Sanjiv Ahuja. “GPS was located on this part of the spectrum long before LightSquared devised its plan.”
Turner asked the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight to investigate communications between the White House and LightSquared officials as political donations were made.
Falcone and his wife Lisa Maria Falcone each gave $30,400 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2009, and have donated lesser sums to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“We cannot afford to have federal telecommunication policy, especially where it affects national security, to be made in the same way this White House has parceled out a half billion dollars in loan guarantees to the failed Solyndra Corporation, a large political campaign contributor of the president,” Turner said.
Solar-panel maker Solyndra LLC won a $535 million federal loan guarantee in September 2009. The company filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 6, and the FBI raided its offices two days later.
The oversight committee received Turner’s request today and was reviewing it, Becca Watkins, a spokeswoman for the panel, said in an interview.
It’s “ludicrous to suggest LightSquared’s success depends on political connections,” Ahuja said in an e-mail. Falcone “has given to candidates in both political parties in the last eight years, with two-thirds of his contributions going to Republicans.”
“Any suggestion that LightSquared has run roughshod over the regulatory process is contradicted by the reality of eight long years spent gaining approvals,” Ahuja said.
“The Federal Communications Commission is an independent agency with its own standards and procedures for considering these types of decisions and we respect their process,” Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, said in an e-mail.
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