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February 27, 2012

FCC Course Change Promising for Boaters

Agency acknowledges GPS interference issues with LightSquared plan

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -  Recreational boaters who rely on global positioning devices to keep them safely  on course can breathe a sigh of relief since the Federal Communications  Commission (FCC) announced plans on Tuesday, February 14 to revoke conditional approval of a proposed cellular telephone network that could interfere with GPS  signals. The decision came after the U.S. Commerce Department advised the Commission that "At this time there are no mitigation strategies" that could  prevent interference with GPS signals if the cell phone network planned by a  private company, LightSquared, were to be built as proposed.  

"This  is a significant development for all GPS users," said BoatUS President Margaret  Podlich. "The FCC, as America's guardian of our airwaves, needs to protect the  integrity of the GPS system. It is one of the most important, reliable, and  critical elements in navigation today - on boats, in the air, and on land."  

According  to Boat Owners  Association of The United States (BoatUS), many boat owners use GPS  chartplotters or carry hand-held GPS units - essentially electronic maps - to  safely navigate and steer clear of shoals and other hazards, sometimes in  unfamiliar waters. Last summer, BoatUS mounted a campaign to slow down  the federal approval process until adequate testing could be done. BoatUS' "Don't Mess With GPS" campaign delivered over 18,000 comments to the FCC from  concerned boaters all across the country.

LightSquared had originally asked the  FCC for permission to build 40,000 cell phone ground stations across the  country that would expand broadband cellular telephone service. In a February  14 letter to the FCC, the National Telecommunication and Information  Administration said tests indicate that the network would "...cause harmful interference to the majority of  general navigation GPS receivers tested," and in addition, noted that "handset  transmissions have the potential to impact General Navigation GPS receivers."   

"While the news is positive for America's  boaters, we aren't out of the woods yet," added Podlich. The FCC is hosting a  15-day comment period ending March 1 to solicit feedback on their plans to  revoke LightSquared's conditional permit. "In the next few days we will be  looking at options for gaining GPS users' input on the issue and will post this  information at www.BoatUS.com/Gov."