Bloomberg now has a copy of the results from the recent NTIA testing that I noted yesterday and is reporting that “LightSquared signals caused harmful interference to majority of GPS receivers tested” and “millions of fielded GPS units are not compatible” with the planned network. The presentation goes on to conclude that “No additional testing is required to confirm harmful interference exists”. This language is particularly important because the FCC Public Notice in September requesting this further testing stated that:
This Public Notice is issued pursuant to the provision of LightSquared Subsidiary LLC’s (LightSquared) conditional Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC) authorization that LightSquared may not commence ATC operations until the Commission, in consultation with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), finds that Global Positioning System (GPS) interference concerns have been satisfactorily resolved. Following extensive comments received as a result of the technical working group process required by the International Bureau’s Order and Authorization dated January 26, 2011, the Federal Communications Commission, in consultation with NTIA, has determined that additional targeted testing is needed to ensure that any potential commercial terrestrial services offered by LightSquared will not cause harmful interference to GPS operations.
In other words, assuming this conclusion is endorsed by the NTIA at its meeting next week, the FCC would be perfectly within its rights to deem that no further testing is required to confirm that the conditions of the January 2011 waiver cannot be met and it must be revoked. Not only that, but LightSquared committed in January that “this process must be completed to the FCC’s satisfaction before LightSquared commences offering commercial service pursuant to approval of our requested modification with regard to our L-band MSS frequencies”, so it appears the FCC could potentially prevent LightSquared from offering any terrestrial commercial service at all. Though I suspect LightSquared will try to argue that this commitment is only applicable to service under the waiver, it will be hard to win that point when it was very clear from LightSquared’s discussions with the FCC and White House in January what was intended.
The FCC therefore is now confronted with a tricky decision: does it simply wait for LightSquared to run out of money, so it can try and avoid the inevitable legal action, or does it allow testing to continue, and risk the wrath of Congress (and Sen. Grassley in particular) for appearing to be supportive of LightSquared.
Coming after the SEC issued a Wells Notice to Harbinger Capital this morning, and Harbinger subsequently suspended redemptions from its funds, this news could hardly have come at a worse time.