LightSquared: GPS businesses behind political controversy

A LightSquared executive said on Wednesday that many of the largest global positioning system manufacturers are partially behind accusations that the wireless company inappropriately leveraged campaign contributions and political ties to officials to gain government approval of its network plan.

Instead of working collaboratively to adopt technical fixes so LightSquared can get final federal approval for its national wholesale broadband network, some GPS companies are creating diversions to distract from the main issues, LightSquared Vice President Jeff Carlisle told reporters after a hearing of the House Small Business Committee.

Carlisle said he has "no doubt" that GPS companies are behind news stories and political criticism claiming that Democratic government officials in the White House and the Federal Communications Commission went out of their way to help LightSquared.

Such criticism "completely mischaracterized" political contributions by top LightSquared leaders and investors, who gave to both Democrats and Republicans, Carlisle said. A recent report by the Center for Public Integrity documented e-mails to government officials in which LightSquared representatives mention fundraising while asking for meetings.

Carlisle said some smaller GPS companies, some of which have partnered with LightSquared, are working constructively, but larger corporations, including Trimble and John Deere, are trying to drive focus away from what the GPS community needs to do to fix its own receivers.

"I don't think they are acting in good faith, certainly not in the best interest of American consumers," he said.

The Coalition to Save our GPS says approving LightSquared's proposed network would amount to an "unjustified windfall at the expense of U.S. taxpayers." The group, which includes major manufacturers as well as GPS users, argues that LightSquared should pay for any potential technical fix to the interference problems and accused the company of promoting "revisionist history."

"The GPS community has expended countless man hours and resources to help in the assessment of the interference that LightSquared's plans would cause to GPS," a spokeswoman for the group said later on Wednesday. "It has done so even as LightSquared changed its deployment plans, and will continue to do so as testing of the company's latest proposal - its third this year - is carried out at the direction of the FCC."

Despite the political brouhaha and congressional probes, which have attracted the attention of Fox News and GOP presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., Carlisle said the controversy isn't affecting the company's work on Capitol Hill.

"Most thoughtful people understand there is nothing to this," he said.

Carlisle was on the Hill to face off with representatives of small agricultural and aviation groups, which fear LightSquared's network could harm their use of GPS. The hearing, called by House Small Business Chairman Sam Graves, R-Mo., examined the potential impact of the network on small businesses.

"Access to high-speed Internet provides small businesses, especially those located in rural communities, with the opportunity and resources to compete in an electronic and global marketplace," Graves said in his opening statement. "However, such innovation should not jeopardize currently established systems including GPS and add more unnecessary burdens to those that use them."

Graves, who called GPS a "national asset," said he plans to write to the FCC soon to ask for more testing of LightSquared's proposals.

Carlisle relied on show-and-tell at the hearing, producing a large precision GPS unit and demonstrating how a filter could easily be attached, making the device compatible with LightSquared's network.

But the other witnesses at the hearing, including representatives of the Leesburg, Va.-based Executive Airport Commission, the Agriculture Retailers Association, and the Aircraft Electronics Association, said much more testing will be needed before their concerns are resolved.