LightSquared Reorganization Planned by July

Aviation International News » May 2013
May 2, 2013, 5:10 AM

LightSquared is slated to exit bankruptcy on May 31, and is required to have its future reorganization plan complete by July15.

What will that plan say? No one except owner Philip Falcone and his closest advisers know, and they aren’t talking. And even if they talked about their plan today, it could change beyond recognition–maybe even a couple of times or more–between now and mid-July. After all, former ice hockey player Falcone is regarded as a fairly agile investor, and an apparently undaunted one, despite his reported financial worth dwindling from several billion dollars to something closer to two billion after launching LightSquared.

So where will LightSquared go?

In 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) disallowed the use of one of the two frequency bands that LightSquared planned to use for its Internet broadcast service due to its interference with GPS. At the same time, the FCC began a major re-assessment of government civil and military spectrum allocations, with the aim of releasing small blocks of unused frequencies no longer required by those agencies. This in turn led LightSquared officials to expect some sort of frequency swap away from GPS could be arranged, particularly, they claimed, since FCC frequency experts had reportedly not adequately cautioned LightSquared during its license application about the real risk of creating interference to GPS by overlapping into the GPS frequency bands. (Ironically, more recent analysis has shown that the opposite also occurred, although to a much lesser extent.)

LightSquared’s Options

A potential new “home” for LightSquared appeared to be in a block of frequencies in a band to be vacated by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) radiosonde tracking stations. But it turned out to be not quite what LightSquared had hoped. Instead of a straight swap, the FCC announced early last month that the frequency block would be offered at auction, with a starting bid price of $203 million, and with the likelihood that the final bids could be significantly higher.

It is not clear whether LightSquared will offer a bid and, if it does, how high it would be ready to go. This is because Falcone has other plans up his sleeve, beyond those that are publicly recognized. The company still has substantial assets, including two of the largest satellites built so far, with one already in orbit and the other in storage, along with complete support facilities.

In addition, LightSquared still has strong visibility in the financial sector, as demonstrated recently by the purchase of $600 million of the company’s secured debt by one of the smaller players in the telecom market, with that purchaser assumed to be acting on behalf of one of the major investment groups. “That’s really not a big stake, because LightSquared still has considerable potential if it could get some better frequencies,” one of AIN’s contacts suggested. “If that bid were augmented by a few more hundred million, it could give the end purchaser some useful leverage to influence LightSquared’s July 15 reorganization plan.”

On the other hand, it was reported late last year that Mexican telecom billionaire Carlos Slim had also expressed an interest in the possibility of setting up a LightSquared system in Mexico, and it was understood that LightSquared might have retained a Mexican legal advisor at that time. This could tie in with the plan to launch the Mexsat satellite in the next two or three years. But should anything happen in that direction, one assumes that the Mexican authorities will first consult with FCC officials to avoid further GPS interference problems.

However, these are just three LightSquared bankruptcy exit possibilities that are publicly known. We don’t, of course, know what Falcone and his team have in mind.

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