- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 26, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal regulators have given a satellite start-up called LightSquared clearance to use its allotted airwaves to provide wireless broadband services that could compete with AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

The Federal Communications Commission is granting the Reston, Va., company a waiver from federal rules limiting the use of those airwaves to providing back-up wireless connections for satellite phone service. Without the waiver, LightSquared’s network could only be used to provide ground-based broadband service if it can also connect to a satellite.

LightSquared, launched in July by private-equity firm Harbinger Capital Partners, has the spectrum because Harbinger already owns satellite company SkyTerra.

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LightSquared is building a nationwide data network that can handle voice calls, but won’t offer conventional cell phone service. The company also offers slower mobile satellite services.

“Having an extra player in the mobile broadband field increases competition and provides consumers with more choices,” the FCC said in a statement.

LightSquared plans to sell its wireless broadband service on a wholesale basis to retailers, mobile device makers, Web content developers and even cable companies. They would then resell the service to consumers under their own brands. It’s a 4G network, the super-fast variety that existing phone companies such as AT&T and Verizon are building.

LightSquared has pledged to reach 260 million users by 2015 to satisfy a requirement imposed by the FCC when it approved Harbinger’s purchase of SkyTerra last year.

“We’re very much looking forward to offering broadband services to all Americans,” said Jeffrey Carlisle, LightSquared’s executive vice president of regulatory affairs.

The FCC said it will require LightSquared to ensure that its new broadband service does not interfere with global positioning systems. Earlier this month, the Commerce Department warned that the service could create interference problems for GPS receivers, consumer navigation devices and satellite services used by government agencies.

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