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GPS Grid Threatened

By Mark S. Kuhar

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) is calling on Congress, Transportation Secretary LaHood and the Federal Communications Commission to stop the threat in the U.S. to Global Positioning Systems (GPS) posed by LightSquared, the company planning to deploy a nationwide broadband internet infrastructure of 40,000 ground stations.

Not only would the 40,000 ground stations very likely render commercial and private GPS signals unreliable and in some cases useless, but implementing LightSquared's plan would add unnecessary burdens to the U.S. economy.

A study just released by the Coalition to Save Our GPS reveals that the stakes in this issue are very high and very real for our struggling economy. The numbers are staggering: more than 3.3 million jobs depend on GPS technology and the direct economic cost to U.S. commercial GPS users and manufacturers could be $96 billion.

Allowing LightSquared to move forward with its plan would heighten uncertainty at a time when we are already economically challenged. Implementation would hurt two key machinery manufacturing areas represented by AEM – agriculture and construction.

According to one AEM-member company, the LightSquared plan could degrade most, if not all, GPS receivers as far as 22 miles from one of the 40,000 transmitters. The harm to highly productive precision agricultural practices is clear.

Farmer business plans depend on GPS information such as yield data, harvest weights, moisture data and other precision agriculture data. Interference with GPS signals up to 22 miles away would devastate productivity and impede U.S. agriculture ability to help meet the compounding worldwide demand for food.

In construction equipment manufacturing, we are still recovering from the severe downturn of 2008-2009 and additional trouble for our industry is at best unwelcome.

In a letter to Secretary LaHood, the Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) explains that “Increasingly, the technology is used to map and survey construction sites including the location of buried and overhead utilities, facilitate precision grading and enhance material application. It is also used to prevent theft of construction equipment, and provide real-time monitoring for equipment maintenance. This GPS technology helps improve worker safety, reduces project delays, reduces fuel consumption and produces a more efficient worksite. Any interference with these signals would be extremely disruptive to the many benefits GPS has brought to construction sites.”

The TCC letter also makes it clear that Congressman Steve Austria (R-OH) and Congressman Kevin Yoder (R-KS), members of the House Appropriations Committee, introduced a joint amendment to the financial services subcommittee appropriations bill to ensure that the GPS technology used by the military, fire fighters, farmers, pilots, engineers and many other industries, including local GPS devices used by individuals, will be preserved and not interfered with by any future expansion of broadband.

“We do not object to the goals of increasing wireless data capacity and competition, but the available test data has shown overwhelming interference, and LightSquared should not be allowed to launch in the spectrum adjacent to GPS and jeopardize construction operations.”

The amendment passed the Appropriations Committee and will now move to the House floor for a vote.

For more information, go to the Coalition to Save Our GPS website,