Tech Tuesday

LightSquared Heads for Bankruptcy

In a move the boss says is a way to retain control of the company, the company goes in for reorganization.

NOTE: Time is running out if you're interested in joining me for a trip to Scandanavia to check out farming, tech and of course the scenery. You can learn more at Farm Tour. Signup deadline is JUNE 1.

I have been a harsh critic of LightSquared in this column noting the potential devastating impact of the proposed 40,000-tower network that would carry high-speed data traffic, but could mess up your farm GPS signal. This week, Philip Falcone, and his hedge fund Harbinger Capital Partners, have decided to let the high-tech startup go into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The company was dealt a near-death blow when the U.S. Federal Communications Commission pulled it's conditional operating ticket in February. Since then, Falcone and others have been scrambling to keep the idea and the network alive. Not only that, Falcone and Harbinger invested billions in the venture that would have created a third-party backbone for 4G Web traffic. However, the GPS industry did its job to protect what has become a vital service for everyone from pilots to farmers and any issues caused by the LightSquared system needed to be addressed.

While there are factions who feel Falcone was wronged by a political system, since the decisions have been made that ship has sailed. However, agriculture needs great quality high-speed Web access as more information is delivered using this near-ubiquitous tool.

Whether you need access to bigger files through e-mail or need to stream data from a Web cam to check on crops or cows, the Internet access you have should carry the load. And eventually a system will come along that offers that potential.

Already Dish Network is petitioning FCC for a ground-based system, which may include some components of the old LightSquared. Based on news reports, the key shareholder in Dish Network may become a player in whatever is left of LightSquared.

But going forward, you will want to look at your Web options in new and interesting ways. Already there are tools and technologies that are getting better. Hughes Net has enhanced its satellite service. Web provider Wildblue is back in ag - after being so successful in other markets its turning its focus back to agriculture with a new, much higher-speed connection that offers a lot of options for your farm.

Satellite broadband is still about the only choice for a lot of operations. For those of you in areas where digital subscriber lines are offered, that's a solid choice too.

At the end of the day, farmers need high-speed web access that doesn't cost them the use of other tech tools. The rural digital divide is real and while our friends at USDA Rural Development are doing all they can to address it, we have a ways to go.

As for Falcone and LightSquared? The last card has not been played here yet. There could be a lawsuit - though no action has been taken. A buyer could come in to the picture - Charles Ergen (that Dish Network shareholder) is a rumored interested party. Keep in mind that LightSquared is down but this tech approach could still return.

We just hope the second time around all parties are talking, not bickering, over the new tools. The need is there, the challenge is to create a proper win-win situation for all parties.

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