So LightSquared has filed a modification application this morning with the FCC, proposing that it be granted access to the 1675-80MHz spectrum as an additional downlink, in exchange for relinquishing rights to deploy a terrestrial network in the 1545-55MHz band. LightSquared also asks the FCC to open a rulemaking proceeding to develop service rules for terrestrial use of the 1526-36MHz band. During the pendency of this proceeding, LightSquared offers to “voluntarily” not deploy the L-band downlink spectrum on its terrestrial network.
This proposal certainly represents a climbdown from the options that LightSquared presented to the FCC in May, coming close to the (worst case) 5MHz option presented by LightSquared at that point, but falling short of that demand for “quick start” options that would allow LightSquared “to expeditiously recommence deployment” in 5MHz of the spectrum and leaving open the transition plan for eventual use of the lower L-band spectrum. Indeed several critical issues, like how the pairing would work between the L-band uplink and 1670-80MHz downlink, how concerns about handset (uplink) interference would be addressed, and what level of coverage can be achieved while protecting “the integrity of continuing, essential government operations in 1675-1680 MHz and the adjacent spectrum at 1680-1695 MHz” are left undefined.
[UPDATED 9/28 & 10/3] Indeed the use of 1675-80MHz by LightSquared could prevent the FCC from auctioning 15MHz of spectrum in the 1675-1710MHz as mandated by Congress, and will certainly meet with heavy opposition from NOAA. Critically, as identified in the NTIA report on this band back in October 2010, there is no ITU allocation for mobile service in the spectrum above 1675MHz, a matter which is intended to be addressed by WRC-15. A NOAA presentation to the ITU highlights that the decision to free up the 1695-1710MHz band will require weather balloons (radiosondes) to use the 1675-80MHz band and that “Radiosondes and Broadband Mobile cannot share common spectrum in same geographic areas”. Given that weather balloons need to be used across the US and can drift for hundreds of miles during their flights, it is rather surprising that LightSquared’s lawyers suggested in court on Monday (Oct 1) that:
“We’ve made substantial progress on our regulatory issues…Short of a few sections of the country, dead zones we will attempt to resolve through other means, this would give us 4G LTE coverage throughout the country. It’s not the proverbial home run everyone said we’d hold out for, but it is a significant terrestrial network.”
Instead, LightSquared has told the FCC that it “believes that it is necessarily relieved of the obligation to meet the build-out milestones” imposed back in 2010 and gives no indication of any desire to rapidly deploy a network, as opposed to securing access to spectrum that could then be sold to another wireless carrier. While LightSquared discusses the use of the spectrum it would be granted for a “new, competitive broadband network” the commitment to provide “wholesale access” is notably absent from its new submissions.
LightSquared quotes the PCAST report pretty heavily, highlighting that (as I suspected) it is jumping on the PCAST bandwagon to gain FCC and White House support. However, it is ironic that while LightSquared suggests it is looking “to share [the 1675-80MHz band] with certain government users”, in fact it is still asking for a spectrum “swap” to “use the 1675-1680MHz band to provide a commercially-useable, terrestrial wireless broadband service as part of a contiguous 10 MHz downlink channel”.
That is what is needed to sustain Harbinger’s argument that LightSquared is still worth the billions of dollars required to maintain control and after the recent successes with the FCC it looks like the debtholders will now wait a few months to see how this strategy plays out rather than arguing for an immediate termination of exclusivity which would allow them to force Falcone to “put his money where his mouth is” and pay them off at par. However, it seems likely that if this attempt fails, the debtholders will be quick to declare “that’s it for me”.