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FCC Sends More Documents on LightSquared To Congress; Grassley Maintains Hold

Tuesday, May 1, 2012
By Paul Barbagallo

The Federal Communications Commission has sent to the Senate and House Commerce committees a second set of documents related to the agency's review of mobile broadband startup LightSquared Inc., congressional aides said April 24.

The documents are seen as critical to ending a party-line standoff over President Obama's nominees to the FCC.

Five months ago, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) placed a hold on Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel's and Republican Ajit Pai's appointments to the FCC until commission Chairman Julius Genachowski turned over the documents to Congress.

But the FCC has refused to release the records directly to Grassley because he does not lead a relevant committee. The FCC has maintained, however, that it will comply with investigations conducted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee or Senate Commerce Committee, which have authority over the agency.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce's Communications and Technology Subcommittee, opened the investigation late last year in Grassley's stead, and has since shared FCC documents with Grassley.

Rockefeller Hopeful
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.V.) told reporters April 24 that he hopes Grassley will be satisfied with the latest batch of documents.

“The deal was anything that came from Energy and Commerce is the same as coming from us,” Rockefeller said. “So he [Grassley] gets all of them. They're all unredacted.”

Rockefeller said that Rosenworcel, who had served as his senior communications policy adviser, and Pai are “fabulous” nominees and should be confirmed by the Senate soon.

“There's just no reason for it [the hold] now,” Rockefeller said.

Contacted April 24, a Grassley aide told BNA that the senator is aware that the FCC provided additional documents to the committee, but noted that it is still unclear exactly what the documents contain. Following an FCC document release March 28, Grassley expressed his displeasure that the documents had all been previously released through the Freedom of Information Act.

Grassley has said that his hold on the FCC nominees will continue until the FCC produces “new, internal documents.”

The FCC declined to comment on the latest submission April 24.

Grassley Holds His Ground
Among members of Congress, Grassley has been the most outspoken critic of the process by which the FCC in January 2011 granted LightSquared a waiver to begin constructing a nationwide, wholesale-only mobile broadband network. The commission revoked its conditional approval for the network in February 2012 (31 TCM, 2/16/12).

The senator has repeatedly asked the FCC to produce emails and other written communications among LightSquared; Harbinger Capital Partners, which controls LightSquared; billionaire hedge fund manager Phillip Falcone, the founder and chief executive officer of Harbinger; and the commission. He also has requested access to communications between the FCC and the White House regarding Falcone, and one-on-one interviews with FCC staff.

Grassley's main objection is the FCC's alleged preferential treatment of LightSquared, once Falcone began contributing to the Democratic Party.

He has also criticized the commission's decision to conditionally approve the startup project, despite concerns about signal interference to global positioning systems devices.

The White House and the FCC have denied giving special treatment to LightSquared, and the FCC rescinded its approval, following a recommendation from the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration that LightSquared's network would create harmful interference to global positioning systems devices.

With Grassley's hold, the five-member commission has been operating with only three commissioners, two Democrats and one Republican.

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