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Bachmann calls LightSquared waiver 'crony capitalism'

Fri, 09/23/2011 - 8:00am
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

Political pressure continues to mount over LightSquared, with lawmakers questioning why the FCC granted the company a waiver to deploy mobile broadband in airwaves neighboring GPS.

Criticism of the waiver has stepped up in recent weeks after a watchdog group released emails that suggested that political ties between LightSquared and the Obama administration prompted the FCC's January decision on LightSquared's permit.

Rep. Michelle Bachmann called the waiver "crony capitalism" in an open letter released Thursday.

The Minnesota Republican said the White House had pressured General William Shelton, the Air Force's Space Command Chief, to tone down his concerns about LightSquared's impact on GPS during his testimony last week before a closed hearing of the House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.

"President Obama is willing to overlook the risks the LightSquared 4G network could pose to the American people and national security because he would rather grant political favors to two of his supporters involved in this situation," Bachmann said.

The FCC, which approved the conditional waiver despite federal concerns about GPS interference, has denied any special treatment. The agency has called for more testing on LightSquared's revised deployment plans and has repeatedly vowed that it will not allow the company to move forward with its network until the GPS interference issue is completely resolved.

LightSquared dismissed the charges of political favoritism, pointing out that its main backer, Harbinger Capital Partners billionaire Phil Falcone, is a registered Republican and donates primarily to the GOP.

Bachmann wasn't the only member of Congress to sound alarm over LightSquared's waiver yesterday.

Rep. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican who chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, called for the House oversight committee to investigate the influence of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, the White House and Harbinger Capital Partners in a "short-circuited rule-making process which threatens to jeopardize national security."

"It is troubling to see reports of high-dollar donors being given unusual consideration in the regulatory process, especially when the consequences entail what Air Force General William Shelton called 'significant interference to military GPS,'" Turner said in a letter sent Thursday to the ranking members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Five other members of the subcommittee signed on to the Ohio Republican's request: Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), John Fleming (R-La.) and Austin Scott (R-Ga.).

Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Wisconsin Republican Congressman Tom Petri also weighed in on the issue yesterday, urging the FCC to "resist political pressures" to allow LightSquared to move forward with its LTE network before the GPS interference issue had been resolved.

"Your January 2011 authorization was conditional on LightSquared successfully resolving interference issues," the lawmakers said. "We urge you to resist political pressures to grant LightSquared an authorization that could jeopardize the Nation's unique spectrum resource – GPS."

LightSquared claimed earlier this week it had found a fix to the GPS interference issue: new receivers and filters immune to the effect of its network. The solutions still have to be tested by the government. Federal agencies dependent on GPS have expressed reservations about filters and replacement receivers because of concerns over costs and logistics. Hundreds of thousands of GPS receivers would have to be retrofitted or replaced, with some estimates putting the number upwards of a million.

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