Welcome to LightSquared. It's a toxic mix of venture socialism (to borrow GOP Sen. Jim DeMint's apt phrase), campaign finance influence-peddling and perilous corner-cutting all rolled into one.
The company is building "a state-of-the-art open wireless broadband network." Competition in the industry is a good thing, of course. But military, government and civilian aviation experts have long objected to LightSquared's potential to interfere with the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite network. As the government's own Positioning, Navigation and Timing agency explained:
"The GPS community is concerned because testing has shown that LightSquared's ground-based transmissions overpower the relatively weak GPS signal from space. Although LightSquared will operate in its own radio band, that band is so close to the GPS signals that most GPS devices pick up the stronger LightSquared signal and become overloaded or jammed."
Two high-ranking witnesses -- Air Force Space Command four-star Gen. William Shelton and National Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Director Anthony Russo -- have now blown the whistle on how the White House pressured them to alter their congressional testimony and play down concerns about LightSquared's threat to military communications. According to Eli Lake of The Daily Beast, both officials were urged to express confidence in the company and endorse its promise to address any technical concerns "within 90 days."
Gen. Shelton had noted earlier this year: "Within three to five miles on the ground and within 12 miles in the air, GPS is jammed by (LightSquared's) towers. ... If we allow that system to be fielded and it does indeed jam GPS, think about the impact. We're hopeful we can find a solution, but physics being physics, we don't see a solution right now."
Despite industry-wide protests, the firm somehow received fast-track approval for a special FCC waiver that grants LightSquared the right to use wireless spectrum to build out a national 4G wireless network on the cheap. Ken Boehm, of the conservative watchdog National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) in Washington, D.C., summed up the deal earlier this year: "LightSquared will get the spectrum for a song, while its competitors (e.g., AT&T and Verizon) have to spend billions."