Agriculture is in the thick of a fierce battle being waged before the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to pull the plug or at least modify a company’s effort to bolster its cellular network at the expense of the integrity of Global Positioning System (GPS) signals.

A company named LightSquared owns a satellite communications network but wants to get into the more popular and profitable land-based cellular business.

It has asked the FCC for a conditional waiver, so it could broadcast much more powerful land-based signals than it's been doing for the past 15 years.

The problem, according to a coalition of GPS users called SaveOurGPS, is that the land-based communications towers could interfere with GPS. The signal that emanates from LightSquared towers, tests have shown, will degrade GPS signals to the point where a GPS user could not get a fix, according to Garmin spokesman Ted Gartner.

LightSquared plans to transmit ground-based radio signals that would be 1 billion or more times more powerful than GPS's low-powered satellite-based signals, potentially causing severe interference impacting millions of GPS receivers - including those used by the federal agencies, state and local governments, first responders, airlines, mariners, civil engineers, construction and surveying companies, agriculture workers and everyday consumers in their cars and on handheld devices.

Garmin is one of more than 40 member associations or companies in the SaveOurGPS coalition. This includes all the major farm equipment manufacturers like Caterpillar, John Deere, and Case New Holland. The others in the coalition range from car rental agencies to UPS to several aviation associations.

The coalition says that the FCC issued its conditional waiver allowing LightSquared to build its network of towers without appropriate testing. LightSquared, for its part, says it certainly does not wish to interfere with GPS signals.

"We not only have to have a robust wireless broadband network, we have to have a robust GPS network. They both have to work," said LightSquared Executive Vice President Jeff Carlisle.

This is not a chicken fight. It is a brawl. If agriculture and the coalition do not stop this effort it could set back a technology that a California farmer says is by comparison as significant as the development of the steam engine in the industrial revolution.

“The bottom line is that GPS technology is extremely important to California and American agriculture now and in the future,” says Cannon Michael, vice president of the 10,500-acre Bowles Farming Company in Los Banos, Calif., who is also the chairman of California Cotton Growers Association.

“GPS is a very valuable tool that we use on a daily basis on our farm. The use of GPS and variable rate technology tells such a good story for agriculture and shows that we are using technology to apply less pesticide in a more accurate way. Any degradation or disruption of this service would be devastating for the farmers in California and the nation,” said the sixth-generation farmer.

Bowles Farming is typical of many California and Arizona producers in using GPS on the farm in a variety of cost-saving operations.