Why doesn't the US charge users for its GPS signals?

I understand from the impressive Wiki article on the subject, that President Reagan ordered GPS to be freely available for “the common good”. Even so, wouldn’t it be reasonable for the US Government to charge a small fee to access the signals? By definition, such a charge would be calculated so as to not be burdensome to users and would therefore still leave the GPS service freely available (i.e. if they can afford a GPS receiver/device, they could afford a nominal fee for the GPS signals). But, given the large number of GPS users, and the many more being added daily, even charging a small fee would bring in big bucks and help defray what must be substantial infrastructure costs.

I suppose it could be argued that having the Government charge its own citizens for a product (signal) that’s going to be generated and beamed out regardless (i.e. for use by the US military and certain other Government users), might be viewed as ‘distasteful’ or unfair. Okay, then what about only charging foreign users? That would still bring in a boatload of bucks.

Of course, all this assumes that the technology exists to deny (or degrade) GPS signals to those who don’t pay up, and allow them to be received unfettered by those who do (and, of course, also by those who aren’t being charged). Unless I’m mistaken, though, could so-called “Selective Availability” not do just that?

I recognize that implementing some form of ‘user fee’ for the GPS signals may require that GPS receivers be redesigned and re-engineered (but maybe not, I just don’t know enough). Even if a redesign was required, though, it would just mean that there’d have to be a delay, say, until 2016 or so, until the new system was turned on. By that date, if your GPS receiver was incompatible with the new standards, you’d be out of luck.

In any case, has this been considered? Why has it not been done?


We already pay a ‘user fee’. It’s called ‘income tax’.

I don’t pay Obama a nickel (not even a Canadian one).

They would have to set up a whole operation for customer service which would add to the cost. Sounds like a mess. If they were going to do it, they should just make all GPS makers to give them $20 for every commercial unit sold.

I am sure their is some tax hidden away somewhere. These satellites are maintained by the Air Force right? Have you seen our defense budget lately? A fee would not even be a drop in the bucket

That sounds like a very practical solution (if you subscribe to the basic principle of having at least some users pay).

I’m not sure about that. GPS systems seem like they’re going to be pretty well standard in cars and cell phones. That makes an awful lot of them with those two uses alone.

:cool: :cool:

Call me a socialist if you wish, but I don’t understand the need to monetize everything (especially government services). Especially when the cost of receiving the money or denying the service would be excessive; and especially, as in this example, where “bootlegged” equipment from Asia would spring up. BTW, did the idea of tacking a surcharge on all blank CD’s ever pass? (The idea was that it was needed to be “fair” to copyright holders whose works might be illegally copied. No one questioned that it might be “unfair” to users like me who put our own data on our CD’s.)

I don’t see any way that the US could collect license fees on GPS chips that don’t enter the US. Even if they did, it would just cause people to switch to the European Galileo system, which is supposed to be more accurate anyway.


Providing this service to the world (not just the domestic civilian market) creates international goodwill. Also, in theory, it is advantageous for us to be able to turn it off to non US military users if we need too, which we wouldn’t be able to do if people switched over to alternatives, or just didn’t use it in the first place.

I can recall reading that back when GPS was first proposed, Congress balked a bit at the price and directed that proponents develop a scheme for charging civilian users. A scheme was considered under which the signals would have been encrypted, requiring subscribers to obtain a new key every month or so. The complexity of administering this was a big part of the reason it was abandoned.

Hey, if *you *wanna pay for it, I’m sure no one in Washington will object, but I’ll continue to enjoy their largesse.:smiley:

A DRM subscription scheme for a life or death emergency service is pretty foolish from a technical point of view, let alone from an administrative one. The government is already providing LORAN without license, so why not its replacement?

Initially, there was no usage of GPS outside of military applications. It was only later that congress was lobbied by manufacturers to open up the system. These companies and their lobbyists surely werent proposing a fee based system and probably made a good argument against it.

Also it helps airlines from wandering into hostile territory:


Also, I imagine there’s a good argument on providing it so the Europeans and Russians dont develop their own, thus controlling it and degrading it whenever they want to the detriment of these other world powers. Turns out that in the end that didnt work as Europe has Gallileo and Russia has plans to finish GLONASS.

Sorta. If you get those special audio recording CD-Rs, the price includes fees payed to the various recording organizations. But, as far as I know, regular data CD-Rs and CD-RW remain untaxed (if you can call what appears to be a voluntary contribution a tax.)

Actually, Galileo will have something like what the OP suggests. The Galileo system will offer an Open Service, which have free access for everyone, alongside a higher-precision Commercial Service for which an access fee must be paid. Descriptions of these, along with the Safety of Life Service and Public Regulated Service, are available here on the website of the European Space Agency. A paper describing the Galileo system architecture and services is available in *.doc format here.

As you note, Galileo is planned to be more accurate than GPS, with ~0.1 m accuracy on the Commercial Service. (To be demonstrated as the full constellation is launched in the coming years.)

I wonder how long it will be before the Commercial Service DRM is cracked and people are building full-strength Galileo receivers out of GNU Radio rigs.

The US shutdown LORAN last month , they said it’s no longer needed due to GPS

0.1 m would be cool. We could put autosteer in cars with an accurately surveyed roads cheaply for limited access highways. It would save a lot of lives, since most traffic fatalities are caused by failures in the current steering system, usually referred to as drivers.

I remember when they shut down OMEGA Omega (navigation system) - Wikipedia

We carried those receivers around as dead weight for several months before the FAA paperwork was approved to remove them from the airplanes.

Staying on the road is the trivial part of automated automobile operation. Avoiding the dynamic obstacles ahead, behind, and all around (i.e. other cars) is the hard part. Avoiding bankruptcy-inducing liability for the inevitable mistakes is the truly insoluble part, at least in the US.