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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.

"I feel like I have an echo," Turner said.

In the past month Turner has turned up the heat, alleging that the White House pushed Air Force Gen. William Shelton, who heads the military's Space Command, to alter his Congressional testimony on the matter to be more favorable to LightSquared.

Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, which oversees Space Command, did not enlist the help of his fellow Ohio Republican.

"We haven't been involved in that," Austria said.

Both Turner and Austria began their work on the issue before Ohio's new Congressional map was unveiled Sept. 13. Turner cited discussions with military officials as the point when he first became concerned about the issue; Austria cited a meeting with representatives of the GPS industry and assorted stakeholders as his first brush with it.

But the matter has gained fresh significance since then. Turner has cited Shelton's comments to Members in a meeting last month to accuse the Obama administration of pressuring Shelton to downplay his concerns that LightSquared would interfere with the military's GPS.

Turner and the other GOP members of his subcommittee asked the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last month to investigate whether the administration was biased toward LightSquared.

In a letter to Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Turner and the others wrote: "We have received reports that numerous witnesses before our committee, and likely therefore other committees, were asked during the administration's testimony coordination process to include language with which many of them disagreed, and that some ultimately declined to include. We are concerned that this language shows an administration bias in favor of Lightsquared."

The White House Office of Management and Budget reviews the testimony of all administration witnesses and frequently urges changes to bring statements in line with administration policy.

The dust-up worries some in the telecom world.

"What scares me is, if we politicize spectrum, boy, oh boy, are we gonna have trouble," said Dale Hatfield, a former top FCC official and expert on spectrum management.

But Shelton and other Defense Department officials have warned that the LightSquared network could harm military GPS capabilities, threatening "national security."

Such concerns raise delicate questions for GPS makers, such as Garmin and Trimble, and for the Defense Department's procurement process.

For instance, if LightSquared's wireless towers could disrupt military GPS use, does that mean potential adversaries could disrupt military GPS use with the same technology?

One former official close to the military's GPS program called Shelton's allegations "ridiculous."

"If you have a military problem with LightSquared, and I'm North Korea, I'd be putting LightSquared in my country," the official said.

A House Armed Services staffer suggested the problem would affect training exercises more than actual military operations. "There are mitigations you could use that you're not likely to use in training," the staffer said.

A Defense Department official said that in combat operations, the military would "eliminate" jammers "by military means" and that it has "countermeasures and alternatives when GPS is interfered with," but that it would be difficult for those to become the primary modes the military uses during normal operations.

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