Congressman Steve Austria

Guest Column: We would be lost without GPS

Following is a guest editorial from Congressman Steve Austria.

Thanks to Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, gone are the days of looking at the hard copy of a map or stopping at the gas station to ask directions. Instead, all you have to do is print off directions from the Internet. Or even simpler, just turn on the GPS devise stowed in the car, punch in an address and go.

While most people are aware of these every day uses of GPS technology, many are unaware of the significant impact it has on Ohio’s farmers. In fact, many businesses also rely heavily on GPS technology and entire industries have been built around its systems. Countless industries, from first responders, farmers and pilots, to engineers and the military use GPS systems every day. These systems help keep us safe and result in a countless number of jobs in Ohio and around the world. That is why I am particularly concerned about a new technology that threatens to severely disrupt GPS signals.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently in the process of granting permission to allow a company to operate a ground-based mobile broadband system in the spectrum immediately adjacent to GPS. This ground based signal will be roughly 1 billion times more powerful than the relatively weak, satellite-based GPS signal. There are a number of well-founded concerns from organizations across the board that fear this operation would result in significant interference to GPS. Furthermore, many of these entities, including the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Transportation (DOT), have expressed serious concerns about the FCC’s handling of this process, and their openness to input from other federal agencies and individuals.

To put the risks in perspective: if even 50 percent of commercial GPS equipment is disrupted, the direct economic impacts are expected to be approximately $48.3 billion per year. More specifically, the annual economic costs of GPS signal disruption on the agriculture industry are estimated to be $19.9 billion; engineering construction disruptions would be $9.2 billion; and commercial surface transportation disruptions are $10.3 billion. These numbers are alarming.

In addition, the American taxpayers have also made substantial investments into GPS. The DOD alone has spent more than $35 billion since the introduction of GPS and continues to spend approximately $1 billion annually on this important national security asset. The FAA has invested more than $3.1 billion on GPS and utilizes GPS in a variety of navigation and safety applications.

The issue is also one of safety. For example, when someone dials 9-1-1, emergency first responders rely on GPS technology to locate victims. Furthermore, our military and homeland security officials also use this technology in protecting our country at home and abroad.

Farmers use GPS systems to increase productivity, lower costs, and reduce environmental impact. In a recent release John Deere said, “The use of GPS technology in agriculture helps farmers improve their accuracy in the use of seed, fertilizer, and fuel. In addition, the use of GPS technology allows farmers to collect data that leads to increased crop yields,” and added that, “Degradation of GPS signals could significantly erode the strong competitive position of U.S. farmers in the global agriculture economy.” The estimated annual cost of GPS disruption to America’s farmers is $19.9 billion. This cost would be added to the already burdensome regulations our farmers must comply with, further hindering their global competitiveness.

Business at home in Ohio would be among the many to be impacted. JD Equipment – one of the largest John Deere suppliers in the Midwest – has expressed concerns of a threat to the agriculture technology that is vital to the success of their customers. Additionally, Woolpert – which is the largest professional surveying and mapping company in the United States and headquartered in Dayton – said that without GPS, operations of the Ohio Department of Transportation, air travel and delivery, navigation in Lake Erie and on the Ohio River (including coal delivery) could be compromised.

When constituents from my district representing an array of industries came to me with their concerns about this single issue, I listened, and last month I acted. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I introduced an amendment to the Financial Services appropriations bill to ensure that the GPS technology used by the military, firefighters, farmers, pilots, engineers, and many other industries, including local GPS devices used by individuals, will not be interrupted. The amendment passed the Appropriations Committee and will now move to the House floor for a vote.

Too many sectors of the American economy, too many jobs, and too many national security imperatives depend on GPS technology for Congress or the FCC to take this process lightly. We must ensure that before any final approval is granted those concerns of possible harmful interference to GPS are completely addressed.

For one moment imagine the impact of a jammed GPS system. Imagine the damage that would do: farmers would be unable to plant crops using the advanced technology they rely on; pilots could lose location ability mid-flight; military systems would be interrupted and perhaps compromised; and firefighters could get lost on the way to fight a deadly fire. These are all huge unknowns, and we cannot afford to go forward unless the FCC can ensure that current GPS signals are not disrupted.

I know this is something that impacts many people, and rest assured I am doing what I can to resolve the issue safely and sensibly. I will be sure and inform my constituents as further action is taken in Congress. As always, please know that my staff and I work for you. If we can ever be of service, do not hesitate to call or email me. You can email me through my Web site at, or call my Springfield District Office at (937) 325-0474, my Washington, DC Office at (202) 225-4324, or my Lancaster District Office at (740) 654-5149.