An ambitious plan by satellite communications firm LightSquared to repurpose its 1.5 GHz spectrum for terrestrial LTE use will be prohibited after the National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) advised that the proposed network would interfere with certain GPS devices, the FCC said in a statement yesterday.

The FCC adopted an order in January 2011, that allowed LightSquared to build its LTE network utilizing its satellite spectrum that is adjacent to the GPS band, on the condition that LightSquared's deployment plans not interfere with GPS operations. Citing the NTIA's findings, the FCC will vacate its order, according to the statement released yesterday afternoon.

"NTIA, the federal agency that coordinates spectrum uses for the military and other federal government entities, has now concluded that there is no practical way to mitigate potential interference at this time," FCC spokesperson Tammy Sun said. "Consequently, the commission will not lift the prohibition on LightSquared."

In a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, NTIA administrator Lawrence Strickling stated that even LightSquared's proposal to utilize the lower 10 MHz of its spectrum — its airwaves with the greatest separation from the GPS band — would not alleviate interference to personal/general navigation GPS receivers and would impact the functionality of "safety-critical" GPS devices used in the aviation industry.

"We conclude at this time that there are no mitigation strategies that both solve the interference issues and provide LightSquared with an adequate commercial network deployment," Strickling's letter states.

The NTIA's findings were based on test results released last month that LightSquared officials have claimed were "rigged" to show that LightSquared's LTE plans would interfere with GPS operations. In a statement released yesterday, LightSquared said that it "profoundly disagrees" with the NTIA recommendation but expressed hope that the FCC would rule to allow the startup carrier to proceed with its LTE plans. Less than an hour later, the FCC released its intention to block LightSquared's terrestrial-deployment proposal.

If allowed to build out its LTE network, LightSquared was prepared to invest $14 billion and create 100,000 jobs — key metrics in a struggling national economy — while providing wholesale services that would provide greater competition in a cellular market increasingly dominated by Verizon and AT&T. But not having an LTE component could jeopardize LightSquared's existing satellite offerings, including its unique push-to-talk capability that is used by public-safety and federal agencies.

"The satellite company, in and of itself, is not sustainable over the long term — we know that," Jeff Carlisle, LightSquared's executive vice president for regulatory affairs and public policy, said in an earlier interview with Urgent Communications. "It's too small of a market to support the capital investment needed to launch a new satellite every 15 years. This is why you see a lot of satellite companies that have gone through restructuring."

While the FCC and NTIA will block LightSquared's LTE plans, statements from both federal agencies acknowledged the need for regulatory clarity associated with efforts to utilize spectrum for broadband. NTIA urged the FCC to consider actions to minimize the negative impact that GPS receivers might have on this effort.

In its statement, the FCC said that federal lawmakers and regulators need to reduce barriers that prevent the most efficient use of airwaves.

"There are very substantial costs to our economy and to consumers of preventing the use of this and other spectrum for mobile broadband," Sun said in the FCC statement. "Congress, the FCC, other federal agencies, and private sector stakeholders must work together in a concerted effort to reduce regulatory barriers and free up spectrum for mobile broadband. Part of this effort should address receiver performance to help ensure the most efficient use of all spectrum to drive our economy and best serve American consumers."

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