High Speed Internet Project in Indian Country Needs Petitions to FCC

Gale Courey Toensing
3/26/12

Project Faces Opposition from “Too Big to Fail” GPS Companies

A Native-owned broadband network company that plans to bring high speed Internet access to millions of people and businesses in Indian country and rural American households is asking people to act quickly to tell the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow the project to move forward.

Tehan Woglake (pronounced tee’han wog’a lak’ki), which means “far talking” in Lakota,  is appealing to people to sign a petition urging the federal agency to approve an application by LightSquared LP to build a ground-based broadband network to use its existing frequencies integrated with its satellite service. The build-out will allow Tehan Woglake to provide high speed Internet services to a vast area of Indian country and rural America. The petition can be signed and filed at Tehan Woglake’s website and must be submitted to the FCC by March 30.

Joe Valandra, Rosebud Sioux, has a controlling interest in Tehan Woglake, which was formed in 2010. “Tribal and rural America deserve to have access to high-speed broadband and the huge benefits of being connected to the Internet,” Valandra said. “They need all the help they can get to ensure that the economic development tools of the 21st century are available to those who so desperately need them.”

In 2010 when the Tehan Woglake was formed, Valandra and his partners expected to receive funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and private sources to build the massive infrastructure needed to bring broadband services to the company’s service area. But the ARRA funding did not come through and so Tehan Woglake looked for a partner and found one in LightSquared.

Tehan Woglake and LightSquared have signed a Letter of Intent to negotiate an agreement that will allow Tehan Woglake to utilize LightSquared’s spectrum and broadband network to provide high-speed broadband Internet service to 2.8 million tribal and rural households in 318,000-square-mile area that includes 407 counties in 15 states and 77 Indian nations. The service will reach 2.8 million tribal and rural households, businesses and institutions.

But the project has run into opposition from a group of Global Positioning System (GPS) companies who claim that the LightSquared project would interfere with their signals. Terry Neal, spokesman for LightSquared, said the company’s filings have proved the claim to be baseless, but public support is urgently important to move forward.  “We’re in the comment phases of the FCC process which is a public process and it’s important for us to demonstrate to the agency that there’s a demand for wireless mobile broadband and that LightSquared is crucial to helping meet the demand,” Neal said. “The other side is lobbying vigorously against us and therefore it’s important for us to show that the government should balance all concerns and help resolve the issues expeditiously.”

The opposition is the powerful Coalition to Save Our GPS made up of industry giants, including Trimble, John Deere and Garmin.  According to its web site, the coalition formed to stop LightSquared’s innovative new technology that combines ground-based radio signals with its long established satellite expertise to provide an  open wireless broadband network that will be available nationwide and offer people high speed, lower cost, universal connectivity. LightSquared proposes a wholesale-only business model so that companies like Tehan Woglake, which don’t have their own wireless network or have limited geographic coverage or spectrum, can using the LightSquared network – without competition from LightSquared. LightSquared’s proposal threatens the market share of the large companies, however.

“Like Wall Street, the manufacturers of GPS devices have spent years profiting off of vulnerable technology and are now seeking protection from the government instead of implementing the necessary reforms,” Jeff Carlisle, LightSquared Executive President for Regulatory Affairs and Public Policy, wrote on the company’s blog in February. “This will harm consumers, businesses, and our national defense. Papering over the problem and not fixing it will hobble American commerce, public safety, innovation, and communications for years to come.”

The Coalition to Save Our GPS claims that LightSquared’s proposal would endanger everyone. “ LightSquared plans to transmit ground-based radio signals that would be one billion or more times more powerful as received on earth than GPS's low-powered satellite-based signals, potentially causing severe interference impacting millions of GPS receivers - including those used by the federal agencies, state and local governments, first responders, airlines, mariners, civil engineering, construction and surveying, agriculture, and everyday consumers in their cars and on handheld devices,” the coalition says on its website.

The claim is both alarmist and unfounded according to LightSquared. “We’ve made it clear in our filing that our signal does not interfere with their devices. Their devices inappropriately read into our spectrum,” Neal said. “We’ve argued and the science has shown that our spectrum was designed with filters that keep it from leaking into anyone else’s spectrum. The other side is also required to build devices to keep in their own lane.”

Neal said the GPS companies’ are presenting a “too big to fail’ argument” -- that they are too big and established to have a new comer come along and interfere with their already established products. But LightSquared has a long established satellite business that has provided services to public safety organizations, police departments and federal government agencies for several years, Neal said. ‘We’re not a startup company and we would never put public safety at risk. We view the problem as a highly technical one that can be solved through engineering rather than politics. It’s in the federal government’s interest to find a solution that allows for GPS to be strong and healthy and also allows this new emerging technology to evolve as well for the benefit of the American people, including the indigenous populations on reservations that are struggling to advance,” Neal said.

Valandra said he believes that “lurking behind: the GPS opposition are the big telecommunications companies “who really don’t want the competition even though they don’t provide services in any meaningful way in terms of broadband. You go out to these 407 counties and you’re lucky if you can get a signal on your cell phone.” But it’s not about cell phones and social media, as useful as they are, Valandra said. It’s about public safety, health care, education, and economic development. “With high speed Internet you can set up a business anywhere, you can access state-of-the-art health care, you can sit in a classroom and talk to another student halfway across the world.” Valandra said. “The real issue here boils down to whether or not Indian country and rural communities will ever be served by high speed broadband and the answer is not without LightSquared and us moving forward,” Valandra said. That’s why it’s vital for people to sign and send the petition ot the FCC, he said. If the FCC denies LightSquared’s application, “it would be decades before Indian country and rural American had access to high speed broadband , which means they’d continue to be the poorest of the poor and that would be a shame. It shouldn’t be that way.”

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