US FCC nominees may be caught in LightSquared fight

Thu Nov 3, 2011 7:20pm EDT

* Denied document request could block nominees

* Senator: FCC's actions suggest agency hiding something

By Jasmin Melvin

Nov 3 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Charles Grassley is threatening to block two nominees to the Federal Communications Commission if the agency fails to produce documents he demanded about broadband start-up LightSquared.

"I will object to proceeding to the nomination because the FCC continues to stonewall a document request I submitted to the FCC over six months ago," the Republican senator from Iowa said in a statement submitted to the Senate record.

Hedge fund manager Philip Falcone's LightSquared has come under fire after testing showed its original plan for a high-speed wireless network would interfere with global positioning system devices that are used by the military and in civilian applications ranging from aviation to agriculture.

LightSquared in June unveiled a new plan for deploying its network that it said addressed many of the interference concerns and has since partnered with GPS firms to develop solutions to the remaining problems.

Deployment of the network depends on regulatory approval from the FCC, which is conducting additional testing to ensure GPS operations would not be affected.

Grassley, unhappy with the perceived fast tracking of the company's licensing process, and later concerned by reports of questionable e-mails between the company and senior White House aides, requested a copy of all communications between the FCC and LightSquared stakeholders.

The FCC in July denied Grassley's request, citing Congress' own guidance on document requests from lawmakers, because the request did not come from a committee chairman with jurisdiction over the agency.

"The FCC's refusal to make documents public continues to give the appearance that there's something to hide," Grassley said.

President Barack Obama on Monday nominated Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, and Ajit Pai, a Republican, to serve as commissioners on the five-member panel.

Grassley will place the hold on the nominees when the nominations reach the Senate floor, his spokeswoman said.

The FCC had no immediate comment, but FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski argued in a July 26 letter to Grassley that "individual members have no authority to issue compulsory process, and the most common and effective method of conducting oversight is through the committee structure."

The agency argues that its review of LightSquared is fact- and engineering-based, and it will not allow GPS to be harmed.