Fox turns LightSquared political
GOP angered by billionaire's ties to Democrats
Wannabe network operator LightSquared is under attack from Republicans who have asked for an investigation into whether the White House pressured its Air Force Space Commander into changing his testimony on possible GPS interference caused by LightSquared's activities.
The accusation is fiercely denied by LightSquared and the White House. The ever-impartial Fox News points out that LightSquared's founder is a "major Democratic donor" in this video report:
Republicans claim that General William Shelton was asked to downplay possible GPS interference caused by LightSquared, in order to allay the concerns that have already forced LightSquared into deploying in a lower band, and reduce the transmission power.
Those measures have become necessary because LightSquared's mad-as-a-box-of-frogs plan is to run a ground network in frequencies formerly reserved for satellite phones. LightSquared picked up the frequency range on the cheap, then got the FCC to remove the restrictions, and more recently signed a deal with Sprint that could actually see the network being built. This has quite a few people properly worried.
Even with the mitigation, the most-sensitive GPS receivers will (it seems) still pick up the LightSquared signal as their radios can't ignore the more-powerful neighbouring transmission. There's also the fact that the mitigation is only temporary: LightSquared expects technology to magic the problem away in the medium term.
Given that the original tests were done at the higher power, and in a different band, it's hardly surprisingly that last week the FCC asked for more testing. That testing means LightSquared is unlikely to get the all-clear for its national network this year, which puts it under considerable financial strain.
But it is the political strain that is new, and the implication that he might be a Democrat seemingly stinging company founder Philip Falcone the most.
"The founder of LightSquared has given to candidates in both political parties in the last eight years, with two-thirds of his contributions going to Republicans because of the founder’s free market philosophy," we were told in a statement, which continues (with an interesting change of pronoun), "I gave $30,400 in contributions to both parties in late 2010."
That's presumably in addition to the $60,800 which was donated to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee by Philip and his wife (each chipping in $30,400) in September 2009, though to be fair the pair ponied up $10,000 a piece to the Republicans (in Minnesota) in June of the same year.
But the question isn't whether the Falcones give lots of money to political parties – they clearly do – but rather whether that money was used to buy political influence, and if that political influence led to Shelton being asked to go easy on LightSquared.
The company points out that it wasn't present at the hearing, and didn't even get to address the chairman, and that its inability to wangle an invite demonstrates its lack of political influence.
Meanwhile the company produced this jingoistic video, which shows how those evil GPS manufacturers are plotting against it:
LightSquared is using every means possible to convey to US politicians, and the public, what it thinks are the advantages of its plan. Meanwhile the GPS crowd is doing the same thing with its own lobbying, videos and an alarmist website. It is equally obvious that LightSquared can't be allowed to deploy a network across America if that's going to knock out the domestic, and commercial, GPS kit on which so many people rely.
The FCC has agreed, in principle, to the plan, so official US policy is that if the GPS interference can be resolved then LightSquared gets the go-ahead. That policy would have been communicated to four-star General Shelton by the White House, as per the official Department of Defence guidelines and pointed out by Media Matters.
But when such debates get turned into political footballs, to be tossed between Republican and Democrat, then supporting either side becomes a political, rather than a technical, decision. One can't help feeling that it would be sad to see the future safety and competitiveness of US wireless being decided by politicians, regardless of which side they're on. ®
Urgh! Faux News
The President could single handily save an orphanage from burning to the ground and Fox 'n' Friends would still make it sound like he started the fire just to look good!
I am glad that the US media has finally gotten on to the issue of conflicts of interest around private companies gaming rules for profit and garnering big contracts. Oh wait, they are only looking at one company because of their prevailing political ideology.
I mean the country gave (and are still spending) billions of dollars to Republican Friends on "Homeland Security" and "Defense" and "state relations" with little evidence of benefit (and always at ridiculous cost) with major Republican donors (And Democrat as well but there was far more going on and ignored on the Republican side). Even today with "budget problems" the most "anti-government" Republican are supporting "their" ridiculous pork.
The tragic problem in the US over the last 30 years is that Democrats support inefficient government spending for their friends while Republicans destroy efficient government spending for their friends.
Pot, meet kettle
If the head of LightSquared had donated to Republicans, Fox would be praising him to the skies and the Republicans would be holding him up as a great example of "Free Enterprise" at work and telling the GPS industry to TFFAARD.
AFAIK, GPS devices are built under Part 15 of the FCC regulations, which long predates the existence of GPS. Part 15 which also applies to televisions, domestic radios, cordless phones and a myriad of other consumer and industrial products, clearly and unequivocally states it is the responsibility of the RECEIVER to adequately handle interference from transmitting devices in other licensed services provided those devices are operating within the technical specifications specified for its service.
There's a long history of battles between manufacturers of "receiving devices" who are trying to keep their designs simple and cheap so they can maximize profits, not give the purchasers a better deal. In the 1950's and 1960's the battle was between television manufacturers and ham radio operators and commercial services (police, taxi services, radio-dispatched couriers and others) who occupied the 30-50 MHz VHF low band. In the 1970's through 1990's the shoe was somewhat on the other foot as hams and VHF manufacturers operating in the neighborhood of 150MHz against pager services operating high-power transmitters near 162 MHz. Even the 150MHz marine band (including the 156.800 MHz international distress and calling frequency) was affected.
The battle between LightSquared and the GPS industry is nothing new and history has shown there is always a technological solution, sometimes involving good RF design practice instead of the cheapest possible designs and sometimes it has in involved extra bandpass filtering on the input of the receiving device. Often it involves both.
The issue is really about design costs and profit margins, not some inherent, unsolvable technical problem.