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Graves: LightSquared Plan Will Cost Billions, Harm Safety

October 13, 2011 – Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), an EAA member, pilot, and Chairman of the House Small Business Committee, emerged with a dire warning following Wednesday’s full committee hearing on the proposed LightSquared broadband project and its potential interference with GPS signals.

“Interference of the GPS signal will cost American small business billions of dollars to retrofit their GPS devices,” Rep. Graves said. “But this is about more than cost; it is also about safety. Pilots rely on GPS to maneuver their planes so above all, we must ensure that safety is not compromised.”

At the center of the debate is LightSquared’s proposal for an expanded broadband system that uses frequencies near current GPS signal frequencies. The high-powered LightSquared signals have shown to interfere with the lower-power GPS satellite signals, causing interruptions in GPS service for aviation, military, emergency, and agriculture uses. LightSquared is attempting to use portions of the satellite frequency spectrum for its land-based broadband Internet service.

GPS is not only the most common GA navigation device in use, but it is also the foundation of FAA’s future NextGen air traffic system that will replace radar surveillance and ground-based radio navigation stations by 2020. LightSquared has maintained that GPS units can be modified to filter out that interference, but the company admits the total cost of such modifications could reach $400 million.

“The idea that a new entrant into the marketplace can arbitrarily introduce a product that immediately compromises aviation safety and security, while expecting the aviation industry to design, manufacture, test, certify, and install an aviation compliant filter, is simply not realistic,” said Tim Taylor, president/CEO of FreeFlight Systems in Irving, Texas, who spoke on behalf of the Aircraft Electronics Association.

In addition, 13 farm groups urged the Federal Communications Commission to conduct targeted testing to ensure LightSquared’s network would not cause harmful interference to agricultural GPS units. These groups, as well as those in aviation and other industries – including EAA – are members of the Save Our GPS Coalition.

Jeff Carlisle, speaking on behalf of LightSquared, said the GPS industry has not been acting in good faith and has manufactured a political scandal to discredit the company. That claim was dismissed by the coalition, which said LightSquared’s contacts with the Obama administration are a matter of public record.

In a related development, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology has released impact statements provided to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that indicate deep concerns about the LightSquared proposal.

To see complete hearing testimony, click here.

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