Skip to main content

Hill Lights Up With LightSquared

LightSquared's FCC waiver has become the topic du jour in D.C. these days, what with Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) taking aim at the President and the FCC and the company claiming to have found a tech fix to the GPS interference problem.

LightSquared has proposed -- with the FCC's help -- offering a wholesale 4G network that could be branded by cable ops and independent telcos and added to their blossoming bundle of services.

Interest on Capitol Hill continues to be high, with Rep. Michael Turner, joined by five other House colleagues, now calling for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigation into how the FCC granted the company to use its satellite spectrum for terrestrial wireless broadband, or as Turner put it in a release: "investigation in the role of the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the White House, and the Harbinger Capital Partners hedge fund, in a short-circuited rule making process which threatens to jeopardize national security."

In the letter Turner and the others, all Republican members of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee -- Turner is chair -- claimed that witnesses at a recent LightSquared hearing were asked by the White House during testimony prep to include language they did not agree with, saying they feared that was an example of bias toward LightSquared.

Turner last week complained that Genachowski backed out of that hearing, saying Gencahowski was trying to dodge questioning. A spokesperson for the chairman countered that he had not backed out and had sent the technical expert on the issue, Office of Engineering and Technology Bureau Chief Julius Knapp.

The FCC has put a hold on its authorization of the LightSquared service, whose waiver was always conditioned on resolving interference issues, until more testing into its impact on GPS. That is the national security issue Turner was referring to since DOD and other agencies have warned of interference that could hurt navigation, weather forecasting and monitoring, search and rescue and a laundry list of other things.

LightSquared has modified its proposal, promising to lower its power, move further away from the GPS band to begin with, and fund research into the high-sensitivity GPS receivers that are picking up Lightsquared transmissions, even though those are within Lightsquared's authorized band.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was not among the signatories to the letter, but separately called the White House and the FCC out for the waiver, citing Turner's revelation that a top general testified the White House had pressured him to change his testimony about the "jamming" of GPS signals by LIghtSquared. LightSquared has countered that it is not going to jam anyone.

Elsewhere on the congressional front, the chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, both Republicans, have written Genachowski to ask him to "resist" political pressures to allow a service they say could "jeopardize" a "unique spectrum resource," GPS, and the $100 billion worth of disruption they say the Department of Transportation has estimated it would cost.

The tone of the letter was, given the other attacks from the Hill, notably collegial, particularly since Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) was rebuffed by the FCC when he asked for LightSquared-related documents back in July -- the commission said it responded only to requests from the chairs of the relevant committee.

In this week's letter, Grassley was joined by Aviation Subcommittee Chair Thomas Petri (R-Wis.), whose request was for working together to make sure GPS was not affected. They said they understood the challenges of expanding broadband access and recognized that the FCC waiver was conditional on resolving interference, but also said it was "odd" that the FCC had "pegged its hopes" of expanding broadband on a controversial proposal from a single applicant.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Thursday that the FCC's process was fact-based and engineering-based. The FCC has actually pegged its broadband deployment hopes on a variety of efforts, from migrating the Universal Service Fund to broadband to reclaiming broadcast spectrum for wireless. But it has also pointed to the LightSquared proposal -- a wholesale 4g network -- as a potential price and service competitor.