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Satellite Dispute Fuels Ohio Primary Tiff

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Steve Austria is taking a stand on a proposed network that could interfere with GPS frequency. The issue hits close to home — Dayton, Ohio, has several facilities that produce GPS equipment.

Dayton, Ohio, is perhaps an unlikely city to find itself the epicenter of a years-long, high-tech feud concerning satellite technology. But GOP Reps. Michael Turner and Steve Austria might make sure it is as they face off in a primary next year and look for political advantages in what will likely be a close race.

Dayton is home to several facilities that produce GPS equipment, including Trimble, John Deere and Caterpillar. Add in the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and it's likely to feel deeply the effect of LightSquared's planned broadband network one that the GPS industry and the Air Force warns could interfere with GPS signals.

Dayton is also home to a new Congressional district that Turner and Austria are battling over, thanks to redistricting.

The LightSquared-GPS matter is a long-running dispute pitting the Defense Department, a group of Republican lawmakers and the GPS industry against the White House, Federal Communications Commission and LightSquared.

A core point of dispute is who will pay to repair what experts call defects in the design of GPS receivers that would keep some of them from working properly alongside LightSquared's network.

It was the FCC during President George W. Bush's administration that first signed off on a proposal by LightSquared to build its network. It was envisioned as a satellite-based mobile Internet with "tens of thousands" of land-based cell towers to bolster the satellite signal in urban areas. Bringing new, innovative uses of spectrum to fruition was a priority of then-FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

LightSquared's network would broadcast on a portion of the spectrum adjacent to where the GPS is, but at much higher power. Following negotiations with the GPS industry in the early 2000s, LightSquared agreed to strictly filter its signal so it wouldn't "bleed" into the GPS' portion of the spectrum.

However, many GPS receivers, built when there were no plans to build a powerful network in the adjacent frequency, scan into LightSquared's proposed territory. Some also scan into the Russian-operated GLONASS network's territory.

Enter Turner and Austria, both of whom have made plays to raise concern about LightSquared's effect on the GPS industry.

Turner focused on the issue first, introducing legislation that passed the House in May to protect the GPS network.

Then, in June, Austria surprised Turner with his own legislative proposal to ensure GPS is "preserved and not interfered with by any future expansion of broadband." His bill's co-sponsor, Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder, represents Olathe, Kan., home to the international headquarters of Garmin, another GPS company.

The move touched a nerve in Turner's camp, which saw it as one of many times Austria had jumped on a Turner-led bandwagon.

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