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Sen. Grassley: What Is the FCC Hiding?

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, is not happy with the FCC's response to his request for documents related to LightSquared's FCC waiver to create a hybrid terrestrial/satellite wireless broadband network.

The commission informed him in a response July 26 that it did not respond to member requests, but only to those from the chairmen of the relevant oversight committee, per the Congressional Oversight Manual. Grassley is the ranking member on Judiciary.

"Refusing a legitimate request in the public interest should require more justification than ‘we don't have to.'  What is the FCC hiding?" Grassley said in a statement Wednesday after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski responded Tuesday (July 26) to Grassley's July 5 letter following up on an April 27 request for documents by saying that Grassley as an individual member had "no authority to issue compulsory process" and that the commission would continue to comply with requests of "committees with jurisdiction over the Commission's activities."

"It's ironic that a communications agency has such a clampdown on its own communications. The issue is whether the FCC will operate voluntarily as an open, transparent institution or whether it will withhold documents from congressional review unless legally forced to comply," said Grassley.   

Grassley had also asked the chairman whether he was concerned about "multiple investigations" of Philip Falcone, who heads private equity firm Harbinger Capital Management, which owns LightSquared.

The chairman pointed out that there have only been reports of informal investigations by the SEC, referring to press accounts submitted by Grassley. "Under longstanding policy," wrote Genachowski, "unless the applicant has allegedly engaged in non-FCC related misconduct so egregious as to shock the conscience and evoke almost universal disapprobation, the Commission will consider such non-FCC misconduct only if the alleged misconduct has been adjudicated."

That is according to the FCC's character policy for holding FCC licenses. Genachowski added that if the circumstances changed, the commission "would take that into account "consistent with its character policy."

Grassley now has the option of seeking help from the House, where Republicans hold the chairs on the relevant committee.

The FCC granted the LightSquared waiver back in January conditioned on LightSquared not interfering with GPS service on adjacent band. After tests indicated there was an interference threat, LightSquared said it would adjust its plan to mitigate that threat, but GPS companies and users are so far not assuaged.