There's a new item in the old "you can't make this up" category of government action and it involves GPS technology. Essentially, the Federal Communications Commission - working at a speed unprecedented for a government agency - has cleared the use of radio spectrum directly next to the signal GPS satellites use for a new ground-based service that could cause significant interference issues.
You read it right, the GPS system which consumers, airline pilots (I'm especially concerned here), farmers, and a host of others have come to rely on could be rendered useless if LightSquared, the company that got FCC clearance to use the frequency, goes ahead with its plan.
The folks at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers held a briefing recently in Washington on the issue, then shared some thoughts and a link to more information on the topic. I've been following other GPS issues in the past couple of years as we see the U.S. Air Force falling behind in satellite launches. Yet this issue could be far more immediate!
I have some weasel words here - could, might - to describe the potential interference in part because no one is sure. LightSquared will be broadcasting a powerful signal for broadband data using the frequency right beside the one used from GPS satellites, but usually the FCC doesn't grant those licenses until interference issues are cleared up. Turns out the FCC is letting LightSquared test for interference.
I can almost hear the conversation at the FCC:
FCC: "So Mr. Fox (LightSquared) you have examined the situation in the hen house and find it satisfactory for your business?"
FOX: "Why yes Mr. FCC, we find that there will be NO trouble with us working in that hen house and you can surely see the value of our business model - we'll be happy to guard the hen house from trouble."
That's essentially what FCC is doing - letting the profit-maker from the new spectrum judge whether it'll be a problem for others if it operates. Not good, not good at all.