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Star Wars, the GPS Edition

A collection of companies that rely on global positioning technology on Thursday will launch the Coalition to Save Our GPS.

Trimble Navigation Ltd., Garmin Ltd. and others have banded together in hopes of thwarting the effort by broadband firm LightSquared to win government approval to use airwaves that travel in a frequency near those used for GPS devices. And both sides have snapped up high-priced lobbyists to make their cases.

Members of the coalition include the National Association of Manufacturers, the Air Transport Association, John Deere and Caterpillar Inc. A team of lobbyists from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, including former Reps. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.) and Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), and Innovative Federal Strategies are lobbying for the coalition.

But LightSquared has K Street power of its own, including Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates’ former Rep. Bob Walker (R-Pa.), Brownstein Hyatt, Mehlman Capital Strategies, Gephardt Group Government Affairs and the Palmetto Group, according to lobbying disclosures filed with Congress.

LightSquared has received preliminary approval from the Federal Communications Commission to build a new wireless broadband network to help meet the demands of iPad, smart phone and other wireless users.

But backers of the Coalition to Save Our GPS argue that the airwaves LightSquared would use are too close to the radio frequency used by GPS and would jam or interfere with GPS signals. Not only could that leave drivers lost, they say, but it also could hinder first responder efforts, aircraft landings and numerous other activities that rely on GPS.

“We believe there will be definite dead zones,” said Trimble Vice President and General Counsel Jim Kirkland, in between Hill visits this week. Kirkland plans to testify at a hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science on Friday about the potential problems.

“You would have to conduct a ‘manhunt’ to find governmental agencies such as Department of Defense, Homeland Security, FAA as well as industries or individuals who would not be impacted by interference with GPS,” Kirkland added later in an e-mail. “Imagine trying to land a plane or directing ambulances or police or firefighters inside a GPS ‘dead zone.’”

But LightSquared said it will operate properly within its broadband bounds.

“We take that responsibility very seriously,” the company said in a statement.

LightSquared’s statement added that its investment in broadband would help millions of Americans who have no access to high-speed broadband, “and, in the spirit of The National Broadband Plan, we will be able to bring nationwide, seamless coverage.”

In preparation for that, LightSquared says it is working collaboratively with the FCC and the GPS community “to ensure that the technologies can co-exist. … We are investing billions to ensure this is done efficiently and safely.”

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