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Sen. Grassley: FCC owes answer to LightSquared GPS query

Wed, 07/06/2011 - 8:15am
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

The ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, is taking the FCC to task for ignoring his questions on the agency's decision to grant LightSquared a conditional waiver to deploy land-based LTE service in spectrum formerly reserved for satellite communications.

Grassley said in a letter sent yesterday to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski that the agency had "intentionally ignored" his request in April for documents about the waiver.

Grassley reports he was told by FCC staff that if a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the same information were made, the FCC could draw out the process for approximately two years, and that any documents it eventually provided would be heavily redacted. 

A spokesman for Genachowski disagreed with Grassley's characterization.

"While we have deep respect for Senator Grassley, we respectfully disagree with the characterization of the exchange between staff in our offices," the spokesman said. "As always, we remain responsive and look forward to working together on this and other issues."

The FCC sometimes ignores document requests from the House and Senate unless they are made by the chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce Committee or the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, has not made any document requests to the FCC about the LightSquared waiver, nor have the leaders of the House and Senate Commerce Committees.

Grassley wants to know why the FCC decided to grant a waiver to LightSquared over the concerns of the GPS industry, which warned that the network could knock out GPS systems. The senator sent a letter to the FCC in April about the issue and received a response in late May that did not directly respond to his questions and offered only a general defense of how the agency handled LightSquared.

The FCC is under pressure from politicians and government agencies, including the Defense Department and Homeland Security, to block LightSquared from launching its network until it can definitively prove the service won't affect GPS.

LightSquared revised its deployment plans after tests showed its network had a widespread effect on GPS systems, but government officials have called for the FCC to mandate further testing before allowing the company to proceed.

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