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Feds send LightSquared back to the drawing board

Jeff Caldwell 01/30/2012 @ 8:59am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

There are a lot of people in rural America -- including a lot of farmers -- who could benefit from better wireless connectivity. But, there's a big hitch in one company's plan to boost rural broadband coverage that could interfere with farmers' work, and as of right now, things aren't looking too bright for that proposal.

In a fight that's been going on for more than a year, LightSquared, a provider of wireless connectivity technology, has been the target of scrutiny from the federal government, and that's got the company's plan to bring 4G LTE connectivity to rural America on hold. Federal officials say the new broadband network has the potential to disrupt GPS signals on which a lot of today's large-scale farm machinery relies. The proposed 4G connectivity would operate on a different frequency than GPS, but the frequencies' proximity could create signal issues, federal officials say.

"Over the past year we have closely worked with LightSquared to evaluate its original deployment plan, and subsequent modifications, to address interference concerns," said Ashton Carter, deputy Secretary of Defense, in a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Lawrence Strickling earlier this month. "It is the unanimous conclusion of the test findings by the National Space-Based PNT EXCOM Agencies that both LightSquared's original and modified plans for its proposed mobile network would cause harmful interference to many GPS receivers."

The recommendation comes about a year after federal officials called for more testing and investigation before moving forward with any further development of a nationwide broadband network by LightSquared.

Moving forward, Carter and John Porcari, deputy Secretary of Transportation, agree that there should be broadband connectivity available to the entire country, but Carter says it will have to come in a manner that won't disrupt signals on which current technology relies. And, that could take some time.

"[We] continue to strongly support the President's June 28, 2010 Memorandum to make available a total of 500 MHz of spectrum over the next 10 years, suitable for broadband use," Carter said earlier this month. "We propose to draft new GPS Spectrum interference standards that will help inform future proposals for non-space, commercial uses in the bands adjacent to the GPS signals and ensure that any such proposals are implemented without affecting existing and evolving uses of space-based PNT services vital to economic, public safety, scientific, and national security needs."

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