Does our goverment make money off of GPS?

Global Positioning Satellites, that is.

I’ve always wondered about this. The US government spent a bundle developing this system, and now products from all over the place utilize it- car direction systems, boat navigation systems, on and on and on…

Does our government receive a cut on these products? If so, how much? If not, how come?

I can’t find any indication that there are licensing fees for the protocol or any other remuneration to the feds. I submit that this is how it should be: one important purpose of the government is to use tax dollars to develop systems which are beneficial to citizens but which are not economically viable enough that private enterprise would do it on their own. Roads, fundamental research, and the space program are a few examples. GPS certainly fits the bill as a public accommodation.

It used to be that the US Army paid for the infrastructure, and the Coast Guard earned money on their differential GPS service.
Now that the Selected Availability is gone (or is it back now with this new instability?), I think a whole lot fewer people pay for the differential signals.

I know that if the military invents something they cannot patent it and they must give away the idea for free - unless things have changed recently. They even have people who have the job of trying to promote their ideas to private industry. So the ideas behind GPS may very well be free to anyone - except for the part that is classified to give you the very accurate location. Civilan GPS data is not as accurate as what the military gets, but it’s good enough for most things.

That’s sounds great, on paper.

But aren’t the majority of GPS manufacturers foreign owned?

If that’s the case, then why should we spend all the money developing this system only to have foreign companies cash in on it? We spend the money to make it, and they reap the rewards.

That doesn’t sound fair.

It may be isolationistic, but wouldn’t it make more sense to offer the technology free to US owned companies, but charge foreign companies for its using it?

*That really is a general question, and not a lead-in to a debate. I assume there’s a straightforward answer to why that would be, if that’s the case.

It’s like the internet- the government developed GPS, but everyone uses it. While the government pays for the maintenance of the GPS satellites, the royalties are just in the form of your taxes. While there has been some exclusions, these have effectively dissapeared with stopping the selective availability. And the reason the SA was stopped is because of the expense and trouble of broadcasting two signals from the satellites instead of just one. And the military doesn’t get any different signal than the rest of us- they have more precise equipment, but the signal is the same.

Great point. And while we’re at it, let’s add toll booths on interstate highways and only charge drivers of foreign-made cars. Bah!

IMO, making GPS widely available to US citizens is worth our tax dollars, regardless of who profits on the actual hardware.

Perhaps the more important point is not so much whether the equipment is/isn’t manufactured by US companies, but that the rest of the world gets to use it for free.

Living in Britain, I can see how that could be irksome. Does anyone know whether GPS equipment manufacturers have to pay the US gov’t to license the technology (and presumably then pass the cost on to the purchaser)? That would be fairer, I think.

I found this quote. The link at is the end of the post.

Civil users worldwide use the SPS without charge or restrictions. Most receivers are capable of receiving and using the SPS signal. The SPS accuracy is intentionally degraded by the DOD by the use of Selective Availability.

>> the rest of the world gets to use it for free

hmmm… yes. Do you think you can develop a GPS receiver which will only give out information to American citizens? What if someone else is looking over the shoulder?

Beside the point that it cannot be done, trying to restrict GPS signals to Americans seems so petty as to be unbelievable. You really think it is a good idea to deny GPS to ships and boats everywhere just because they do not pay US taxes? Yeah, let them sink or run aground! who cares? I can’t believe anyone would propose this.

By the way, Russian Glonass satelites are also open to everyone. I guess they could also say the same thing.

And while we are restricting what people who do not pay taxes use, I guess every country should charge a fee at the border to foreigners who wish to enter. After all, we do not want them using our roads and infrastructure for free.

Not to mention stopping all aid to other countries.

Selective Availability was turned off about a year and a half ago.

I think you’re taking that a bit too far, sailor, because that’s not really my point (Besides, don’t some coutries charge people for entering their country?).

My point was, if the government spent an enormous amount of money on a product that is now being sold by manufacturers, and the government continues to maintain and keep that infrastructure operational, wouldn’t it make sense to sell a license to use that product?

Furthermore, wouldn’t it make sense to the taxpayers who helped financed GPS to cut the US businesses some slack in charged for that use?

But seeing that’s it’s free- for all to use- it’s all kind of moot any way, isn’t it?

To all you cheap ass Americans out there don’t worry cos Europe is now building a GPS network called Galileo which is gonna be free I think aswell. So you won’t have to pay tax money for our positioning in the future. However while we are waiting for that please carry on funding our positioning cheers USA.

Choose your words carefully.
Who do you think ultimately pays for this site…

And there’s already GLONASS, the Russian equivalent… (But with slightly higher orbital inclination to better over the polar areas)
I’m not sure about the current receivers, but it’s possible to have a receiver that can use all three types of satelites. (The frequency is more or less the same, and the encoding is similiar.)

Noblesse obliges - it’s a free gift from Uncle Sam to the rest of the world. Do the Chinese expect thanks for paper? Do Renaissance Italians expect thanks for double-entry book keeping? Do the Brits expect thanks for warm beer?

These are specious analogies because they don’t involve ongoing maintenance by the inventors. The Italians don’t have to maintain any infrastructure to make it possible for me to keep my books.

I agree that it’s basically noblesse oblige, but that’s a loaded term that implies a class structure. I think it would be better to call it whatever, an ancient Latin root meaning that the action has no negative consequence so let’s not worry about it. The US government maintains GPS for use by Americans, and the fact that it’s useful to the rest of the world is a wonderful side effect. It’s not like all those non-US users are draining the system or anything.

Perhaps the rest of the world could laud these “collateral benefits” when they’re done condemning various collateral damages. Nah, nevermind. Forget I mentioned it.

To clarify a bit, from my perspective as a Brit;

  1. I’m very grateful that this thing exists, and I’m happy to use it. Thanks very much.

  2. I personally wouldn’t have a problem in paying a bit more for the receiver, to recompense the US for putting it there in the first place, and maintaining it. It’d be fair (but probably unworkable) for receivers sold in the US for domestic use not to have this extra licensing - you’ve already paid your tax dollars.

  3. Given that (2) hasn’t happened, re-read (1). Thanks again.

** It’s NOT warm!** It’s just not cold. And yes, credit where it’s due…