Republicans on the House Small Business Committee asked the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday to hold off approving LightSquared's planned national wireless network until tests show that it won't interfere with global-positioning systems.
The FCC has repeatedly said it won't give LightSquared the green light until the interference problems are solved, and that stipulation is included in waivers that the agency granted the wireless start-up.
But House Small Business Chairman Sam Graves , R-Mo., and eight other GOP colleagues on the committee want reassurances that that the commission won't move ahead without solving 100 percent of the problems.
They wrote FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, rejecting LightSquared's assertion that its plans won't interfere with 99 percent of GPS devices.
"This is not an acceptable answer or solution for general aviation," they wrote. "The [Federal Aviation Administration] has very specific requirements for safety, and 1 percent tolerances are not acceptable - 100 percent accuracy is needed to ensure a safe flight for general aviation."
On Oct. 12, the committee heard testimony from representatives of agriculture, manufacturing, and general aviation. In Thursday's letter, the panel's Republicans echoed calls by those witnesses for federal tests to exhaustively examine the potential impact of LightSquared's network.
Small businesses should "not be required to spend one dime" to accommodate LightSquared's network, Graves argued.
"While LightSquared's aim to increase broadband to rural areas is a noble goal, we must find a solution without jeopardizing established GPS systems and further burdening small businesses," he said in a statement. "Under the current LightSquared proposal, small businesses would be left to foot the bill that will easily cost billions to replace or retrofit their current GPS devices."
LightSquared's battle with the GPS industry has become increasingly vitriolic.
The wireless company says that recent revisions to its plans, including moving transmissions to the spectrum furthest from GPS bands, will prevent interference in all but the most high-precision devices. For those devices, LightSquared contends, relatively inexpensive filters and antennas can be added to address the problem. It proposes that GPS manufacturers, not users, shoulder the burden of retrofitting the necessary devices.
"Having solved the interference issue for the vast majority of users at considerable expense, and done everything it could to operate within its spectrum in a way that protects GPS receivers, it is the responsibility of the GPS manufacturers to fund the replacement or retrofit of the remaining portion of GPS receivers," LightSquared vice president Jeff Carlisle told the committee during the Oct. 12 hearing.
That hasn't convinced many GPS manufacturers and users who say that the technical fixes are unproven and could potentially cost billions of dollars. The latest tests are scheduled to conclude at the end of November, but the FCC has not given a timeline for more tests or final approval.