Out in Front: The Good, the Bad, the Incompetent

September 1, 2011  - By

Good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-WThe most efficient use of spectrum the world has ever seen benefits more than a billion people today. Two billion tomorrow, when modernized and interoperable GNSS gets real. This massive installed base constitutes a source of innovative advantage and invaluable good will for the United States.The latter arises from the high degree of trust and confidence in the United States and its stewardship of GPS, one of the most successful — and perhaps only — simultaneous foreign aid and domestic economic stimulus programs ever created.

Smooth dealers operating inside a hedge, playing with other people’s money, want to make billions by raiding this national resource to provide video on cell phones to young audiences.

The Federal Communications Commission has acted in ways inconsistent with reasonable public expectations of a federal rule-making agency. Early on, it gave the appearance of buying into the LightSquared agenda, issuing a ruling with undue speed.

It has waived, explained, and proclaimed in ways that show an abject ignorance of radio frequency (there are conflicting reports as to whether agency technical staff was ever consulted by leadership prior to acceding to the LightSquared request) — and too clever by half. The chairman, rumored to be in line for the China ambassadorship, was careful not to sign the waiver himself, but have the deed done by a subordinate.

In this act, they ignored the inherent conflict in two competing national policy objectives: the National Space Policy and the Broadband Memorandum. Rather than taking time to reconcile crucial guiding principles, the waiver plots its own course.

The ruckus has gotten the president out on a limb, and now the agency must find a solution allowing him to crawl back before the election. Either that, or he and his advisors, including the FCC chair, will knuckle down and carry on regardless, saving political face in the short run while weakening national infrastructure and defensive capabilities.

Never underestimate politicians’ desire to save face. In many ways, it’s all they’ve got.

The best thing the GPS community can do during this quiet reloading period is to keep the letters and calls flowing to Congress: the safest and most fact-based action for the FCC is to conclude that the terms of the LightSquared conditional waiver have not been met and withdraw the license to deploy a terrestrial network in the 1525–1559 MHz band. This is the only approach fully consistent with both the National Space Policy and the Broadband Memorandum, as well as the FCC’s own regulations.

At this point, any actions taken by the FCC are subject to unpredictable political considerations.

Shootout at the cantina.

This article is tagged with , and posted in From the Magazine, Opinions

About the Author:

Alan Cameron is editor-in-chief and publisher of GPS World magazine, where he has worked since 2000. He also writes the monthly GNSS Design & Test e-Newsletter and the Wide Awake blog.

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