Senator vows to block FCC nominees over LightSquared

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley wants the agency to answer questions about the satellite-LTE startup

The controversy over satellite-LTE carrier LightSquared could prevent the U.S. Federal Communications Commission from filling two vacant seats if a U.S. senator follows through on a threat issued this week.

In a statement on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa vowed to hold up a full Senate vote to confirm Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai as members of the FCC unless the agency answers his questions about its handling of LightSquared. President Barack Obama nominated Rosenworcel and Pai to the FCC on Tuesday, but their appointments will need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Grassley, a Republican, has been fighting the FCC since he wrote a letter to the agency in April requesting information about its regulation of LightSquared's proposed hybrid satellite and cellular network. The carrier has a satellite mobile data network and wants to also build an LTE (Long-Term Evolution) network on frequencies close to those used by GPS (Global Positioning System). In January, the FCC granted the company a waiver to sell wholesale access to the two networks separately, making an exception to current rules. It gave the waiver on the condition that there be no interference between the LTE network and GPS.

Subsequent tests showed interference that effectively knocked out many GPS devices. LightSquared has adjusted its plans to minimize that interference and now says the problem could be solved through those changes and some affordable modifications to GPS receivers. But the company is still trading claims with GPS vendors and users over who caused the problem, what fixes can work and who should pay for them.

Grassley wants the agency to address concerns about GPS interference, but also about Harbinger Capital, the hedge fund that owns LightSquared. He cited U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigations into Harbinger and concerns that the company may have used past political contributions to influence the FCC toward granting the waiver.

The FCC declined to give Grassley the documents he asked for because he is not the chairman of a committee with direct jurisdiction over the agency, Grassley said.

"It not only sets a dangerous precedent for a federal agency to unilaterally set the rules on how it engages with Congress -- it also prevents any meaningful ability for the vast majority of Congress to inform themselves of how an agency works," Grassley said in his Senate floor statement.

The FCC declined to comment, and LightSquared officials were not immediately available for comment.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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