A possible threat to recreational GPS?
As if sportsmen and citizenry in general didn’t have enough to
worry about, what with the federal government on the brink of
defaulting on debt, a Minnesota state government shutdown because
of petulant, bratty lawmakers, and the San Francisco Giant Brian
Wilson’s beard giving children and adults alike nightmares…
Yeah, as if all that wasn’t absurd (albeit real) enough, I
received an urgent, panicked press release today from BoatUS, which
calls itself the nation’s largest recreational boaters group. The
Alexandria, Va.-based organization says boaters nationwide could
stand to lose GPS as a navigational tool if a proposal to the feds
comes to fruition.
According to BoatUS, a private company wants to use radio frequency
bandwidth next to existing GPS radio bandwidth, which Boat US says
threatens the future reliability of the nation’s GPS system.
Anglers on all types of water use GPS to avoid obstacles, find
their way home, and mark the “spot on the spot”!
The specific issue, says BoatUS, is an “unusual conditional waiver
granted in January by the Federal Communications Commission to a
broadband wireless communications provider, LightSquared, to permit
the dramatic expansion of land-based use of mobile satellite
spectrum. This spectrum, or frequency bandwidth, is directly
adjacent to the frequencies used for GPS communications.”
The company, according to the release, has proposed to build 40,000
ground stations and “LightSquared’s high-powered ground-based
transmissions from these stations have shown to cause interference
in hundreds of millions of GPS receivers across a wide range of
uses, including aviation, marine, emergency response…”
Recreational boaters lost their only other viable navigation
system, LORAN, when the Department of Homeland Security shut the
system down in 2010, says BoatUS. At that time the U.S. Coast Guard
urged mariners to shift to GPS-based navigation systems.
“(GPS) is a critical piece of safety gear,” Podlich said. “What
will boaters do if they are unreliable, and how will the U.S. Coast
Guard’s new emergency search and rescue system that stands watch
over 36,985 miles of coastline, Rescue 21, remain effective, since
it relies on GPS?”
A 30-day comment period already is open, and sportsmen and other
boaters need to chime in by July 30.
“This is a remarkably short comment period for an issue that has
such dire consequences for America’s boaters and every other GPS
user in the country,” said BoatUS Vice President of Government
Affairs Margaret Podlich in the release.
This scribe has no clue how legitimate a threat this proposal
actually presents to American boaters and other folks who use
recreational GPS. I did a quick Google search on “lightsquared” and
“GPS” and had more than 700,000 hits. A scan of a Wikipedia entry
suggests that this potential problem has been unfolding and debated
with the GPS community and FCC for several years, but the concern
definitely strikes me as worthy of further review.
We’ll sniff into this here at Outdoor News. In the
meantime, you can learn more by visiting the organization’s website
at www.BoatUS.com/gov. There’s also a larger umbrella
group pushing back on this proposal called the Coalition to Save
Our GPS. View its website at www.saveourgps.org.