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.”