The concern among farm groups over LightSquared’s proposed cellular network continues. Recently, a coalition of 13 agricultural groups urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to conduct more testing on potential interference from LightSquared’s network with existing GPS technologies used by farmers. These technologies are widely used across the U.S. for precision farming.

“As users of GPS precision equipment in agricultural applications, we believe this additional testing is imperative,” said Steve Wellman, a farmer from Syracuse, Neb., and American Soybean Association first vice president. “We need to know with certainty that any modifications and proposed solutions will work for new and existing precision agriculture equipment.” 

In January 2011, the FCC gave conditional approval to LightSquared to build a 40,000-tower, land-based cellular network. The radio wave spectrum LightSquared plans to use for the system sits in what is known as the L-Band, which is just adjacent to the spectrum that GPS devices use. 

LightSquared gave initial assurances that its original proposal would not cause interference to the nation's GPS system. However, government and commercial tests demonstrated that its original network proposal would cause widespread disruption to GPS service. 

“ASA noticed in recent public testimony before Congress that key government agencies that rely on GPS all agree that it is unclear whether LightSquared’s revised proposal will protect the government functions administered by these agencies from harmful interference,” Wellman said.

(See “Federal agencies: LightSquared unacceptable safety, environmental, economic consequences.”)

The coalition stated that testing should include laboratory and field analysis of LightSquared's proposed solutions. The testing also should examine the full range of scenarios to ensure that the base stations and handheld devices proposed by LightSquared do not degrade GPS receivers. 

Plus, the coalition believes that if the LightSquared plan moves forward and GPS equipment problems develop, then LightSquared is financially responsible. The company should bear the costs of retrofitting or replacing GPS receivers.

The letter to the FCC was signed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, American Sugar Alliance, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Barley Growers Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Potato Council, National Sunflower Association, U.S. Canola Association, USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council, and USA Rice Federation.