Tech Tuesday

LightSquared: Forgotten, but not Gone?

The LightSquared name has been popping up from time to time lately as the bankrupt firm tries to get back on the rails. Could be a good thing.

LightSquared. It became a kind of nasty word during 2011 as the firm pushed its agenda of building 40,000 towers that would use a satellite frequency to provide high-speed Internet access across the country. Seemed like a great idea at the time - still does - but it turns out that the original approach would have encroached on important GPS signals used by farmers, pilots and the military.

Despite LightSquared's protestations to the contrary, test after test showed there was a problem with their approach. Major GPS equipment makers - taken to task by LightSquared for not keeping their tools current, ended up winning the day. And as LightSquared was banned from proceeding with its original plan, it slipped into bankruptcy and a bit of obscurity.

Yet the company is far from dead. It is working on a couple of things we've gleaned from the media that follow this part are of technology. First, the firm is proposing that it be allowed to proceed by using a different area of the broadcast spectrum. That's a little controversial because some of what it would use is already available to government users.

Second, it has filed for public comment to be released from its obligations from the original U.S. Federal Communications Commission waiver - which included having broadband service accessible to millions of people by the end of this year. The FCC waiver is still in force - but suspended - and LightSquared doesn't want to be on the hook when it doesn't deliver what was promised.

While stopping LightSquared from moving ahead on the broadcast spectrum it wanted made sense, killing the idea complete doesn't, provided some other concerns are dealt with. Having that ubiquitous access to high-speed Internet communication would be super. But if we come to rely only on that service, does that kill competition?

LightSquared's model was always that it would sell its service wholesale to anyone who wanted to use it - Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, Warner, Cox, Charter, etc. However, if they all come to rely on that service for broadband support, is there enough competition in the infrastructure to keep prices in check? Just because new tech often lowers the cost of doing business doesn't mean they have to share that benefit if competition isn't tough to make it happen.

That's a longer term concern, but one that shouldn't be forgotten if this business gets traction. But as someone who talks to a lot of farmers about technology, I do hear about pockets where high-speed web access is limited. It would be great to finally get some infrastructure pushed in ways we can use it with mobile gear and in farm offices.

We'll see how this unfolds.

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