Senate Commerce to Consider FCC Nominees; Grassley to Block Over LightSquared Data

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By Paul Barbagallo  

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday, Nov. 30 to consider President Obama's two nominees to the Federal Communications Commission.

Neither nominee—former Federal Communications Commission deputy general counsel Ajit Pai or Senate Commerce Committee senior communications counsel Jessica Rosenworcel—is considered controversial. However, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has threatened to block their confirmation because the FCC has refused to turn over documents related to a conditional waiver the agency granted to LightSquared Inc. in January to build a nationwide mobile broadband network. The project is controversial because of its expected impact on global positioning systems (GPS).

Grassley's main complaint stems from a belief that the FCC may have given LightSquared preferential treatment once the company's principals began contributing to the Democratic Party.

A spokeswoman for Grassley said Nov. 18 that the senator has met with Senate Commerce Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.V.), but that he has still not received any materials from the FCC.

“He [Grassley] and Sen. Rockefeller talked, and their staffs subsequently met. Talks are ongoing about how Sen. Rockefeller might help to persuade the FCC to be forthcoming with the materials,” the spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement.

Grassley Seeking Records.

Grassley has repeatedly asked the FCC to produce e-mails and other written communications between LightSquared, Harbinger Capital Partners, which controls LightSquared, billionaire hedge-fund manager Phillip Falcone, the founder and chief executive officer of Harbinger, and the commission. Grassley has also requested access to communications between the FCC and the White House regarding Falcone. But so far, he says he has not received any of these records.

At issue are alleged meetings between White House staff and LightSquared executives about the proposed venture. According to a recent report by the Center for Public Integrity, e-mails exchanged between the administration and LightSquared executives confirmed that the meetings took place while Falcone was donating to the Democratic Party.

LightSquared and the White House have said there were no inappropriate communications.

In a statement Nov. 18, Rockefeller indicated that he would work to get Pai and Rosenworcel confirmed.

“These are exceptional nominees who will be effective advocates at the FCC. As we consider these nominations, I remain committed to working with my colleagues to address any concerns and move these nominations to a full Senate confirmation as expeditiously as possible.”

Grassley is not a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. If he places a hold on the nominations, it would take effect only after the committee confirms them.