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Posted by on Jul 18, 2011 in Boating Law, Marine Electronics, Safety and Seamanship, US | 2 comments

GPS Threat: FCC Proposes Bandwidth Change

If the Federal Communications Commission grants a proposed license, we could all end up on the rocks.

Last week Boat/US sent out a press release that has some real urgency to it. Recreational boaters, ship operators, automobile drivers, airplane pilots, hikers, land surveyors, photographers, even search and rescue first responders, could soon fall victim to a major FCC mistake. And we all have only until July 30th to speak out.


If a proposed FCC bandwidth change is approved, GPS could become erratic and unreliable.

It seems that LightSquared, a company with some big time financial clout, is trying to get the FCC to allocate frequency bandwidth to them for some 40,000 stations which would enable their expansion of land-based use of mobile satellite functions. Only problem is, the frequency spectrum is directly next to existing GPS operating frequencies.

And the FCC has already taken the first step in messing things up, by granting the company a “conditional waiver” last January.

On the good side, the FCC did commission an impact study. The results are extremely alarming. To quote: “all phases of the LightSquared deployment plan will result in widespread harmful interference to GPS signals and service and that mitigation is not possible.”

Let me add an additional nuance to this little revelation based on my own experiences with frequency spectrum interference and crosstalk. Frequency interference issues are often random; you never really know when they’re going to strike or what impact the interference will have. In this case it could mean that your boat’s chart plotter is really just kidding when it shows your position on the chart display. Lost in the woods on an extended day hike? Good luck. Flying a plane using GPS to locate an airfield? You might get to the right landing strip… might not. You get the idea.

We all need to speak up, and Boat/US has made it easy to do so. Go to the Boat/US website  right now and make some noise! LightSquared needs to be stopped in its tracks before the FCC makes a mistake that would have major repercussions for our most important aid to navigation.

After all, none of us wants to end up like the boat in the photo.

—Ed Sherman


  1. Please not just the FCC docket 11-109 but your Senators and Rep. I wrote mine but I doubt they are smart enough to do any thing constructive.

  2. Here’s the message I sent my representatives, not that I expect anything out of them:

    The LightSquared proposal has gone too far already. If it had been considered properly to begin with, it would not have even been allowed on the docket. It has been given the air of legitimacy, but it’s a fatally flawed plan that could and almost certainly would cause serious disruption in all forms of commerce, recreation, and even government activity that rely on GPS position accuracy. Someone, I fear, has paid someone off to get the proposal to this stage. Please just stop it before it wastes even more of your time.